“Many of my gambling clients would stop gambling and then substitute with gaming.”
Michelle Nogueira is a Problem Gambling and Technology Overuse Counsellor at Homewood Community Addictions Services in Guelph, Ontario. She has worked for 33 years in the continuum of care in the addiction field and currently teaches at Wilfrid Laurier University on Behavioural Addictions and Relapse Prevention. She is currently in the process of obtaining her International Gaming Disorder Certification. We spoke to her about gaming disorder and why she believes it is essential for clinicians to pay attention to it.
HELEN: What sparked your interest in learning about gaming as a clinician?
MICHELLE: My personal experience in raising a 17-year-old “gamer” motivated me to add gaming disorder to my clinical repertoire. When my son Noah was 5 (2008), he drew this elaborate picture of himself playing a video game with his friend Hunter. At that time, our family had never been exposed to video games nor did we have any gaming devices. Noah had never played games at our house or anyone else’s home, including Hunters. So, imagine my surprise when he showed up with this detailed depiction of video gaming. Despite, parental gatekeepers, he clearly had been influenced by his peers. Shortly after drawing this picture, Noah added a Nintendo DS to his Christmas wish list. At that time, my husband and I didn’t even know what a DS was.
When I was out Christmas shopping, I decided to check out this handheld gaming device. I overheard a conversation between a mom and her three kids — two boys and a girl between the ages of 7 and 11. I listened intently to this very challenging exchange between a mother and her children.
The older boy wanted Grand Theft Auto (GTA) which is rated by the Entertainment Software Rating Board as Mature (17+). He insisted that his mom buy it for him. His mom explained that it wasn’t an appropriate game for his age due to the content. It was painfully grueling to listen to the mom trying to explain all the reasons why she wasn’t going to purchase GTA.
I was impressed with the mom and even more impressed with the store clerk who overheard the conversation and intervened. The clerk explained to the mom and her children that he wasn’t permitted to sell GTA to her child due to the store’s policy and adherence to the ESRB’s rating system.
After witnessing this conversation, I called my husband at work. We had a conversation about the pros and cons of bringing this device into our home. I had witnessed the tension and challenges that we as a family could face and I was scared. We eventually made the decision to purchase a DS, but we were very clear that we needed to be proactive and monitor this issue closely. This bystander encounter was another significant event that prompted me to pursue gaming-specific education.
HELEN: You work at Homewood Community Addictions Services, do you see gaming clients seeking help?”
Yes, in fact, as a response to the needs in our local community, I initiated and launched a Balanced Technology Management (BTM) committee in 2017. This concept was initially coined by Cris Rowan. The BTM committee brings together a variety of stakeholders passionate to ensure that children and youth receive a balance between activities that promote healthy development with screen time. It supports the proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
Also, around the same time in 2008, I was seeing many of my gambling clients stop gambling and then substituting with gaming. I continue to see this today. This was coupled with my agency receiving many calls from families/schools looking for gaming treatment and support.
All of these factors were indicating a growing concern and my need to be proactive as a mother and as a clinician. In 2013, I co-authored a book My Parent’s Aren’t NOOBS! This heartfelt story for children (ages 5-8) and parents highlights the importance of video games with today’s generation of youth and promotes healthy video gaming habits. I wanted to offer parents preventative information and direction to help them navigate video games within the home.
HELEN: What resources have you used to learn about gaming for your clients as a counselor?
MICHELLE: To enhance my knowledge and skills I attended multiple training sessions, but I always felt like something was missing. After taking a course through Cam Adair’s Game Quitters, I learned about a newly launched Gaming Disorder Clinical Training offered through INTENTA. This new training was specific to Gaming Disorder which I was thrilled about as a lot of the trainings I attended were more generic about screen time.
The training was outstanding and more comprehensive than any of the other trainings that I had taken to date. It was seamless, well-researched, and based on best practices. It took a deep dive into the fascinating world of gaming and I learned so much. The training increased my empathy for gamers and their families and provided a responsive road map to address gaming. For the first time, I felt like I understood the lure of gaming and all the needs it can meet (purpose, meaning, social, ego, self-esteem etc.). It made me think of one of the lines from Ready Player One, “People come to the Oasis for all the things they can do, but they stay for all the things they can be.” I finally got it. It was a eureka moment!
HELEN: What do you believe is the future of gaming?
MICHELLE: With the surge in gaming and the tsunami of problems, I can’t help but be reflective on how gaming has changed throughout the years. I have fond members of playing arcade games at a local restaurant where I grew up. I loved playing Pac-man and a game called Make Trax. In fact, I played Make Trax so much that at my grade eight graduation there was an arcade game console made out of construction paper on the wall in the gymnasium with my picture on it. This image was indicative of the amount of time and money I spent (25 cents per game).
Today’s video games are highly immersive. They are stimulating, exciting, fast-paced, and provide varying levels of challenge to overcome while playing. With advances in digital technology, the graphics are more realistic than the classic arcade games that I use to play. Therefore, it is not surprising that helping professionals are having to address this issue in our communities.
Just as I reflect on the past, I’m scared about the future of gaming with all the advancements in technology. On a day-to-day basis, I see the toll that video gaming has on the individual and the family. It is heartbreaking, which is why I passionately advocate for more research, prevention initiatives and comprehensive ethical treatment. We need to brace ourselves, as the proverbial “game over” is a distant memory.
Learn more about our internationally accredited Gaming Disorder Clinical Training.