Addiction experts have reported an increase in gaming addiction in the UAE with some gamers spending up to 15 hours a day behind a console.
While some use gaming to feel connected with others, prolonged hours spent playing games could be a symptom of a deeper issue such as social anxiety, psychologists have said.
Carolyn Yaffe, a CBT therapist at Camali Clinic, said she is being increasingly approached for advice from parents of children spending the majority of their free time playing games.
"I do hear more and more parents concerned about this. It's very important for parents not to use these games as babysitters,” she said.
Some of her patients spend between four to six hours playing games.
"Gaming becomes an addiction when it's interfering with your everyday life. If it's affecting your wellbeing and when you can’t stop or cut back, that's an addiction. When you’re not interested in anything else, that is an addiction. When you find that there is never enough time, that is an addiction,” she said.
Ms Yaffe has found that teenagers who feel isolated use gaming as a way to connect with others. A child may also turn to games if they feel anxious in a social situation.
While a child playing a video game for five hours a week is safe, if it starts getting to 15-30 hours a week, parents need to be careful, she said.
"Parents need to understand what the effect of this addiction is. Are your children losing sleep? Are they not participating in other activities? Is this affecting with their academics?”
She recommends introducing children to other activities and spending more time with them.
"Nothing beats one on one time with your children. Open a dialogue and have a conversation," she said.
This week, the World Health Organisation listed “gaming disorder” as a mental health condition for the first time in its draft 11th International Classification of Diseases. The hope is that it will prompt more research on the subject.
Jawad Al Bloushi, 28, is a person who could stand to gain from such research. He spends between five to 15 hours a day gaming at his local cafe.
"I play because I enjoy it. Gaming is like a drug, if you don’t take it, it has bad effects on you,” the Emirati property consultant said.
He said he has played games for 5 hours a day almost every day since he was 13 but that the key to staying on top of his hobby is to balance it with other activities.
"If you want to socialise, you cut down on the number of hours you spend in the cafe. If gaming is damaging your health, then you need to stop," he said.
Dr Nick Wakefield, a clinical psychologist at The LightHouse Arabia Centre for Wellbeing, said research should focus on the cause of gaming disorder rather than the outcome.
"The literature points to gaming being a function of some of the problems like depression and social withdrawal,” he said.
"I see patients playing games for many hours but that would not classify it as addiction. It’s a problem if it is affecting other areas of their lives. The amount of time isn’t necessarily the important factor, it’s the impact and the reasons why they are doing it," he said.
Gamers get a sense of connectedness and achievement from the game that they do not experience in society, he said.
"A client of mine would spend 11-12 hours gaming because he didn’t feel comfortable in social situations. This stopped him from developing other interests and social networks. We have encouraged him to develop interests to reduce social anxiety."
Ashish Kumar Sharma, a 30-year-old Indian expatriate living in Dubai, has found a way to kill two birds with one stone, by spending time with family and friends while still getting to play games for hours on end.
He plays between four to five hours a day, often with his spouse, and argues that gaming has made him more social.
"While gaming, you are interacting with people from different countries while sitting at home. It doesn’t affect my social life. Now, I can chat with your friends and play online. Some people also meet and attend conferences together,” he said.
"Every addiction comes with a responsibility and for me, I have something to come back to after a long day at work. For some people it overshadows their responsibilities. It’s an addiction that should be controlled," he said.
Malath Alzu’bi, the operations manager at GeeGee cafe in Abu Dhabi, said he gets between 150 and 250 customers every day at his cafe.
"Spending time on gaming doesn’t mean that you don’t have life. I know people supporting families by being a gamer," he said.