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During the ‘Dubai Police Al Ameen Service Public Forum on Online Gaming’ Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: The issue of addiction to online gaming and its impact on the mental health of children was at the fore at the ‘Dubai Police Al Ameen Service Public Forum on Online Gaming’ on Monday.

To counter the problem of gaming addiction, educational psychologist Dr Nadia Buhannad urged parents to nip it in the bud and also called for a more balanced perspective, including utilising video gaming as a method of learning.

Speaking to Gulf News on the sidelines of the forum, the mental health expert said many families are suffering because of addiction to online games or social media among children and adults.

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Dr Nadia Buhannad Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Games in curriculum?

Dr Buhannad called for the inclusion of video games in school curriculum citing that it might be wise to make use of the gaming platforms to make children learn their lessons. “If this is what they like, why not use it for good?”

Pointing out that gaming also has its advantages in sharpening the skills of users, she said: “We are not saying it is totally bad. But how much time spent on gaming is what matters. It shouldn’t be misused… We know they are good at developing the imagination of children and improving their awareness and some skills. So, why can’t we include them in teaching, especially science and maths?”

She quoted the result of a research study done in Ramallah in Palestine that found video games in science curriculum as effective learning tools. “The boys and girls were all excited to learn this way,” she said.

Young people who know how to develop games should help make them suitable for inclusion in the curriculum, she added.

Gaming addiction

Dr Buhannad pointed out that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has classified gaming disorder or video gaming addiction as a mental health condition.

Yet, online gaming addiction had peaked during the COVID-19 pandemic. She quoted a survey by a German database company that interviewed 45,650 people above 18 years from 39 countries between April 2021 and March 2022. “90 per cent of more than 1,000 UAE nationals and residents, who responded, reported playing games, placing the country on top of the global survey of adult gamers.”

Dr Buhannad highlighted the need for studies to analyse the gaming pattern and time spent by children below 18. From her experience, she said some of her teen patients spent 10 to 12 hours online, playing games and on social media. According to her, five to seven hours a week can be permitted for online gaming.

“Issues crop up when they sit for long hours every day, engrossed in the games. Parents should limit the hours that children spend on online games and encourage them to have social activities or play sports or have hobbies that contribute to mental well-being. Parents need to be role models and raise children to be emotionally intelligent.”

She also cautioned about the dangers of children addicted to online games falling victim to cyber criminals. “It could be a terrorist or a paedophile who is playing online with your child. There have been many instances globally of how such people influence children using various methods. Children can be sexually exploited as well. They need to be warned and taught about such things,” the expert added.

Bullying and fraud

Acts of cyber bullying and inciting violence and terrorism through video games are not myths, but a reality, other experts who spoke at the forum said.

Colonel Saeed Al Hajri, director of the Cyber Crime Department at Dubai Police, said Dubai Police recorded 26 cases of cyberbullying and 21 cases of financial frauds through video games over the past three years. “Such cases are fewer here compared to some other countries,” he said, attributing it to the high level of surveillance done by security agencies and game developers.

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Colonel Saeed Al Hajri (extreme right) during the discussion Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

He said the UAE has strict laws to penalise cyber criminals and working together with online game developers, schools and families is the way forward to ensure children are safe from threats in cyberspace.“Families need to be naturally supportive and schools need to be educative also.”

Col Al Hajri also supported the use of video games for educational purposes. “These games need to be utilised for educational purposes and also for storytelling and other positive things,” he told Gulf News.

Real-life violence

Dr Noah Raford, chief of Global Affairs at the Dubai Future Foundation, gave real-life, but isolated, examples from different countries of how online games were misused by criminals to incite violence.

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Dr Noah Raford Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Pointing out that video games have become today’s social media and will remain tomorrow’s social media, he said: “Just as dangerous people have been using social media over the last decade or two to spread their ideas of fear and intolerance and hate, so too will people use games to do the same thing.”

While the vast majority of games are used for entertainment purposes, there are games that are used to recruit followers to racist groups and there are games that helped mass shooters to rehearse, he said citing some examples.

“DIY games have been misused to spread dissension, fear, anxiety and division,” he said, pointing out that it is important to know how games work and how they are being misused.

“Once we understand how it works, we can fix the issues. If you are a parent, talk to your children about this, learn which kind of games they like and play the games with them.”

He said private and government organisations should also explore the use of games for good.

“Technology is a tool. Video games and the metaverse are just a tool. It’s truly up to us to decide if we want to let the forces of fear and anxiety use that tool to shape our future or if we want to create a future which is healing and hopeful and full of optimism to create a better world for itself.”

It is after realising how video games and metaverse can have a positive impact on the society that the Dubai government has launched a metaverse strategy which is not only going to have extraordinary potential economic benefits, in terms of adding billions of dirhams to the economy and creating new jobs, but also social opportunities as well, Dr Noah added.

Safe user experience

Dr Marwan Alzarouni, CEO of Dubai Blockchain Centre, spoke about the role of governments and legislators in augmenting a safe user experience in the metaverse. He emphasised the importance of working together with technology providers, standards organisations and academia to create an ideal metaverse ecosystem.

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Dr Marwan Alzarouni Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

During his session, he also screened videos that showed how video games and metaverse can be used positively. They included a video on the UAE’s Everdome, a Binance smart chain-based metaverse that plans to establish a thriving metaverse science-based colony on Mars.

The first-of-its-kind Forum by Al Ameen Service also included sessions by big names in metaverse and gaming such as Herve Larren, founder and CEO of metaverse company and Luca Lamberti, CEO of 99Starz, that offers blockchain gaming ecosystem.

Did you know?

• Video games generate between $200 billion and $250 billion in revenue every year.

• Video games have become the world’s most dominant form of entertainment.

• The size of the video game industry is over three times the size of the global film and music industries combined.

• Top streamers on Twitch (a video game live streaming platform) already receive twice as many views every year as the biggest Hollywood movies.

• Billions of hours are spent every day by 3.2 billion people who play games regularly.

• People spend twice as much time watching and playing video games as they do using all other forms of social media combined.

Source: Presentation by Dr Noah Raford, chief of Global Affairs at the Dubai Future Foundation