What is gaming addiction, really?

3-part candid interview with luke vu phd. 

by sasha k.

Ever wondered what gaming addiction is about? Today we bring to you a conversation we had with Dr. Luke Vu – a PhD and psychologist treating digital addictions who runs his recovery clinic in Maroubra, on the topic of gaming addiction. This is Part 1 of a three-part topic that is available exclusively on this blog!

What is gaming addiction exactly, and is it even a real thing?

Gaming addiction is a very real thing. Like any other addiction, it provides an escape or a relief for oneself from anything stressful or negative that they are experiencing in real life. Like any addiction, there’s a pattern of using a short-term solution (whatever your substance or activity may be), repeatedly, turning it into a long-term problem.


In this case, let’s say that it is excessive gaming.


They can end up neglecting their responsibilities and relationships as they continue to game more heavily. In general, gaming is a powerful stimulus, because it’s a great stress reliever, source of pleasure, provides a sense of mastery and plenty of excitement. And once you are building deep problematic patterns or develop an addiction, there’s no doubt that asking them to give up all that will be a difficult thing to ask of them.

So, what’s the first thing that you usually do when someone comes in with a gaming problem?

First, I really have to establish whether or not they really want to work on their problem. What is it worth to them if I helped them get rid of their gaming addiction? If they are really struggling with the consequences of gaming and are ambivalent to super-motivated about quitting, then we get straight to work.

Normally, my patients come in feeling very terrible about themselves; they may have lied, hid, deceived, stole, passed on their responsibilities and/or disappointed their loved ones. The first thing I tell them is that, this is a noble and thankless sacrifice that they are about to do [i.e. give up or reduce gaming]. I tell them that there is something noble about choosing the hard road, and that is, to quit their gaming habit. If quitting means that one has to deal with the negative problems they have in real life, why wouldn’t anyone choose gaming? I think it takes great character to not choose the instant relief that gaming provides, and voluntarily choose to deal with problems you face in real life. And it is something that they can be proud of.

What do you mean by “noble sacrifice,” and does it work when you tell them that what they’ll be doing is a noble thing to do? 

It sure does.


My patients have spent quite a considerable amount of their life constantly being told to stop and being judged on how gaming is ruining their lives. When they come into therapy, I tell them that solving this will be something that no one will give them credit for, and that they’ll be doing the harder thing - giving up something that brings immediate enjoyment.

You can even ask yourself: if you had some activity in your life that gave you almost instant relief from your troubles, would you give it up that easily? And so, after the first session where we’ve determined that they would, my patients leave the room with a sense of their self-worth back.

I’d say that I’m also a gamer. But how would you classify unhealthy gaming behavior? 

There’s a difference between gaming enthusiasts and gaming addicts. Most of what we know about addiction comes from studies on drug and alcohol addiction, but the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [a.k.a. DSM-IV] classifies one of the criteria of an addiction is that it must causes impairments to one’s quality of life.

Fortnite Battle Royale. All rights belong to respective copyright owners

The occasional binge nights playing Fortnite won’t cause long-term impairments, but binging Fortnite everyday will. Personally, I have a few rules of thumb when assessing gaming addiction. I ask about if your gaming has affected your work & personal relationships, and whether or not you’ve tried quitting - and failed, and if you’re gaming to cope with negative emotions. If you are saying yes to those questions, then I’ll start to think that your gaming habits are becoming more clinically serious.

Addiction is sometimes a vicious cycle, really.

You can even ask yourself: if you had some activity in your life that gave you almost instant relief from your troubles, would you really give it up that easily?

Luke Vu PhD.

Could you give me an example? 

Imagine if you’re a student. Let’s say that your life is a little messy, and you’re not doing as well in your final year of study as you expected to, plus some relationship troubles. Your grades are going down, you have a pending exam that stresses you out and makes you really anxious. Well, understandably, you might game. Four hours later - you’re tired, and now you have less time to study. And then you’re faced with a decision that brings on an even more negative emotion: “do I face my problem, or do I game?”

Also as a side note - the more you game, the more salient to you it becomes. You invest more time into it, thus you’re invest more of yourself and self-worth into the game. You are equipping your avatars with the best gear, leveling up your character, working out the best strategies and building their skill sets to match it, and so on. I’m not against gaming as an activity at all! And full disclosure - I do play games myself. But if everything is going well in your life, then by all means - gaming is fine! But when it’s not, and you choose not to deal with your life issues and instead repeatedly choose gaming, then you’re likely to have a serious problem on your hands down the track.

And that ends Part 1 of our three-part series on the introduction to gaming addiction. Stay tuned for our next post that’s going to be published next week, where we will be talking to you about what therapy for gaming addiction is like!



  • Sacrificing gaming means that you've decided to take the hard road.
  • Giving up games = thankless and noble sacrifice of giving up something that provides immediate relief or immediate pleasure.
  • Gaming isn't a problem if the rest of your life is in order. 
  • Solution to gaming addiction is the willingness to face your problems to get your life in order.

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Hi, I'm Luke. I'm a registered psychologist and former award-winning university teacher that treats gaming addiction. If you're struggling with keeping your gaming habits under control or attempting to quit 

I can help.

My style of psychotherapy is a non-judgmental focused approach to teach you the mental skills to motivate yourself to take action and regain control over your gaming habits. I can help you build the mental skills to live your meaningful life where gaming isn't a problem

My practice is located at Suite 604 / 806 Anzac Parade, Maroubra, NSW 2035

Copyright 2019,  Luke Vu PhD.   

Information presented here does not constitute mental health advice and is educational in nature.