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When does gaming become too much?

Posted at 8:58 PM, Feb 19, 2016

Mikey Borgaila, 14, sits on the corner of the family living room couch, tapping away.

"I am playing with other people online. This is Call of Duty Black Ops Zombie," he says.

On the other end of the couch, mom, Carla, sits playing with Facebook on her iPad and reading. She says her son plays video games three to four hours a night. She considers it research. Mikey wants to make video games when he grows up.

"If that's what he wants to do. It's more just like any sport. If he's not current on what's out there, he'll never be a good video game designer," she said. "He can talk for hours about what he's going to do, and 99 percent of it doesn't mean anything to me. But he tells me anyways and I listen."

But when does gaming become too much? And is it just gaming? Omaha-based KMTV visited the media research lab at Iowa State University, where Dr. Doug Gentile has been studying this very thing since 1999. 

"92 percent aren't addicted which is good, but 8 and 1/2 percent is still a lot of kids,"Gentile said.

Gentile says that equates to something like three million kids.

"And since this hasn't been considered a real issue, those kids are taking a real damage to their lives but not getting the help they need," he said.

It's not just video games. For the first time, the latest publication of the DSM-5, the psychologist's bible, included internet gaming disorder in its appendix. The American Psychiatric Association's DSM-5, lists Internet Gaming Disorder as "a condition warranting more clinical research and experience before it might be considered for inclusion in the main book as a formal disorder."

Gentile says there is still a lot of work to be done, but the appendix classification helps researchers define their research moving forward. Since the DSM-5 publication in 2013, research like Gentile's have helped shine more like on internet gaming disorder. For example, it looks like the gaming actually leads the depression, Gentile says.

"There's somewhere between 6,8,10 percent of the children that take part in this activity, can be hurt. It can now be high risk, they can be damaged for life," Peter Komendowski with Partnership for a Drug Free Iowa said.

Dr. Gentile took KMTV into the media lab. There, they hook subjects up to test reactions to the stress of a game. In just a few minutes, KMTV reporter Lindsey Theis's heart rate was up. Dr. Gentile says reactions are even more dramatic into the study, as subjects become interested in the storyline of the game. He expects more cases in years to come, painting a picture similar to alcohol or drug addiction.

"If you think back to the 1960's, when the early research on alcoholism was showing that it looked like a medical model fit that. That it was a disorder that needed treatment. At that time the culture wasn't ready to accept that. They said 'no no, this is a moral problem. This isn't a medial issue. You're just not strong enough.' We're in a similar place with video game addiction," Gentile said. "The early research is starting to look like a disease model fits pretty well. But the culture isn't ready to hear that, they're saying 'no no no, it's a moral failing.' And in this case they are blaming it on the parents."

So what's the silver lining here? Monitoring everything for screen time when it comes to entertainment. TV, video games, iPhone apps, and everything in between.

"The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a maximum of one to two hours a night. Most Americans get much more than that," Gentile said.