From passion to problem: The potential pitfalls of too much gaming

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Will Musterman and David Salas grew up with video games.

"I was more introverted, so I didn't want to hang out and go out," Salas says of what sparked his interest.

What drew them in back then is drawing them out now. As they've grown up, so has gaming.

"It's so much more social," Musterman said. "The internet allow you to connect to more people. It's fun. It helps some socially awkward people like myself make friends."

Not to mention, as founders of Washburn's League of Legends club, it's fueling their competitive side.

"In terms of sports and video games, they do have one thing in common - and that is you want to win," says Salas, who played baseball in high school.

Video games have come a long way from Pac Man and Mario.

The latest market report released this week by Newzoo projects e-sports will generate $906 million revenue in 2018, up 38 percent 2017. The report also projects their total audience will grow to 215 million people.

The explosion of interest has found its way to college campuses, with many now fielding competitive e-sports teams with scholarship money and other prizes on the line.

But that's also given rise to something else. For the first time, the World Health Organization is poised to classify 'gaming disorder' as a mental health problem.

Clinical psychologist Mary Wilson, PhD, of Topeka's Stormont Vail, says most people who play video games will do so without issue. She says gaming has many positives, as the Washburn club illustrates.

"A video game provides healthy social relationships. They're meeting and doing things together. That's great," she said. "There are certain video games that can enhance aspects of cognitive functioning. It can enhance visuospatial awareness."

But for some, the digital drama leads to darkness.

While it may not have the same physical component as alcohol and drug addiction, research shows it may impact neurotransmitters in the brain. Wilson says gaming crosses the line when it impacts other areas of life.

"If you have a teenager who stays up all night playing video games and then they can't get up the next day or falling asleep in class and so they're not learning; or if you have an adult who focuses on video games and neglects important relationships like with a spouse or other family members - that's impairment and that's a problem," Wilson said.

Wilson says it's often not the games themselves but a condition such as ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, social anxiety or depression that makes it difficult for a person to transition away from video games.

"They can find them very stimulating and exciting, and more so than other parts of their live," she said.

Wilson says parents can help by setting limits early.

"Be thoughtful about how you allow video games into your child's life," she said, adding places limits when children are younger will make it easier to enforce restrictions when they're teens.

Musterman and Salas say it's about balance.

"Life comes first, and then gaming comes second," Salas said. "You don't want to get gaming before life."

Doing that, they say, has changed their lives for the better.

"I think it actually helped me as an introvert to actually express and talk to other people," Salas said.

"Coming to college, I was nervous," Musterman said. "I've met people that I'm gonna more than likely talk to the rest of my life because of our similar interests in video games."