As the popularity of video games continues to rise, so does the risk of gaming addiction, according to experts.

The United Nations Health Agency recently said that compulsive gaming now qualifies as a mental health condition.

“I actually wrote a suicide note, and that’s when I realized that I need to make a change,” Cam Adair said.

Adair said he started out as a normal, happy kid playing video games as a hobby. But that hobby turned into a full-fledged addiction, causing him to drop out of high school — twice.

“I never graduated. Never went to college, and got to a point where I was pretending to have jobs (but was) playing video games up to 16 hours a day,” Adair said.

The World Health Organization defines gaming disorder, in part, as an “increasing priority given to gaming… despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”

It was that suicide note Adair wrote that made him realize he had lost control of his life. That’s when he reached out to his father, who put him in touch with a counselor.

“This counselor really helped me start to find more stability and structure in my life, where I could start creating a new life beyond gaming,” Adair said.

Between gaming consoles, computers and phone apps, the WHO estimates that 2.3 billion people play video games every day worldwide. Three percent of those gamers are affected by gaming disorder.

“It’s not just the games, of course. You have to look at what’s going on with the individual,” said Richard McMullan, children services director with Region 8 Mental Health Services.

A child psychologist in Brandon said stressors, like low self-esteem, bullying and even parents dealing with substance abuse, can contribute to gaming disorders.

“If you’ve got all these factors that are in flux, or could significantly harm a child negatively, and you bring the gaming into it, then you’ve got a higher risk factor,” McMullan said.

McMullan said that’s one of the reasons he wouldn’t recommend any child under age 7 play any video games without the supervision of an adult. He said role-playing or first-person games can make it easier for a gamer to escape reality.

“Escaping into a fantasy world and becoming a fantasy character then gives that child a sense of empowerment, a sense of security, a sense of heightened self-esteem. But, unfortunately, as we know, that’s not reality,” McMullan said.

Gaming can increase analytical thinking, reaction time and even the ability to perform activities and tasks, McMullan said.

“A child needs to have a lot of exposure to face-to-face interaction and nurturing experiences that demand they engage face-to-face with other human beings,” McMullan said.

McMullan stresses that the key is balancing time between the virtual world and the real world.

The WHO said defining the issue as a disorder allows governments and families to be proactive in identifying risk factors for a gaming disorder.

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