A couple of years ago, a former colleague contacted me to ask if I’d ever seen the Wii cause obsessive/compulsive symptoms. The colleague, a psychiatric social worker, related that her six year old son had developed a disturbing compulsion—he couldn’t stop touching and rubbing things, and would become anxious when forced to stop. This mother had never been a big fan of video games, but she’d recently purchased a Wii gaming system—thinking it healthier since it was more “active”—and let her son play a little each day.
She realized her son loved playing, but the coincidence in timing between the Wii and the compulsions was too obvious to be ignored. Since we had worked together on an pediatric inpatient psych unit, she knew I often implemented a “no video games” rule with patients to help their nervous systems re-regulate.
“I told him it was broken, and just replaced whatever he was playing on the Wii with the actual activities. We played tennis and went bowling…I even made up games for the kids to play in the backyard. Within one day his [touching and rubbing] was reduced by about 30%. Within a month, the behaviors were essentially gone. It was so dramatic I thought it should be written up as a case study.”
After three months or so of abstinence, she let him play occasionally but would back off as soon as she saw any increase in symptoms. I connected with her again before posting this article. Two years later, he continues to have very minimal symptoms, and will only compulsively touch or rub things when he’s overly excited. This mother does not allow any video or computer game playing in her home, so he gets exposure only when he plays at someone else’s home; she estimates he plays about once a month. (I include this because so many mothers tell me it’s impossible to get away from gaming…it’s not, it just takes some planning.)
But back to the case. Does it make sense, knowing what we know about the effects of gaming on the nervous system? What’s the rationale?