Video Games: How Much is Too Much?

It’s got to be one of the most pressing questions a parent could have about gaming aside from whether or not violent gaming makes violent gamers. People generally have an opinion about how much gaming is too much. Unfortunately, that's I can really give you because the research doesn’t suggest that the time spent gaming is how you determine if a gamer is “addicted”. The reasons why they play are much more important. That's a topic for another post. The important thing is that we don't demonize gaming, because it has a lot to offer us in the right quantities.

Before I give an opinion on this, let’s ask another important question. Are you really talking about video games or are you talking about total screen time between gaming, YouTube, social media and anything else we do on our devices and computers. It's very common for parents to treat the two activities as one in the same.

While the issue of overall screen time is a real one, we need to separate gaming from general screen time. Gaming is incredibly nuanced in terms of how we try to use them to feel fulfilled. Online gaming is a community rich with nuance and complex social interactions that can either resemble competitive sport or a fantasy novel. I’m going to focus on gaming specifically because while general screen time and gaming are very close cousins in terms of how the brain reacts to them, the motivation to play games are unique.

"There is no magic number. However...."

I think I can help you get an answer that makes sense. I am a teacher, a parent and among other things, a gamer. I feel that my unique perspective on this issue gives me great insight on how gaming fits as a hobby into our week. I also know how the line can quickly blur and that hobby can turn into a habit. You might be interested to know that Oxford University believes that 1 hour of gaming every day is better than no gaming at all when we discuss personal well-being and mental health. Between hour 1 and 3, the experience doesn't necessarily improve mental health, but it's still engaging. Nearing the 3 hours mark, the benefits of gaming seem to drop off a cliff.

The Australian average daily gaming time in 2016 was 145min each day for 15-24 year old boys, and nearly 90min per day across all ages. It has remained largely consistent into 2021.

You're going to miss out on things if you're playing for multiple hours every single day. It might be exercise, it might be socializing, it might be homework. If you want to back up each day of gaming with another day of gaming, it looks a lot less like a hobby and more like a habit.  Ideally, I believe that our gamers should max out at about an average of 4 days a week. I don't think that it's a big deal if that time increases a little. I just think the important thing is to not play every day as a pattern. That way, there is time for other stuff, and the length of the gaming session can afford to be a bit longer so that our gamer can still feel satisfied.

Basically, I think that gamers will get the most out of their experience when they play for about 2 to 3 hours with deliberate goals for their session. Going beyond that will start to go beyond the benefits that video games can provide. The attitude shouldn't be that video games will meet all my needs, it's more about video games being one of many things that I look forward to in my week.

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