As a young teenager, Mr Royden Lim spent around 10 hours a day playing console games like Halo.
He had turned to gaming to escape from the real world but it came at the expense of family ties.
A heated argument with his parents on his obsession during which harsh words were exchanged, which included him questioning their love for him when compared to his two siblings, led to a "very real and hard wake-up call".
His parents had told him: "It's not that we love you any less, it's that you are no longer around as much."
The incident spurred a change in his priorities and he began to spend more time on other things such as watching documentaries and reading about animals.
The 21-year-old full-time national serviceman still enjoys gaming these days and was one of around 120 young people who took part in an esports competition at Our Tampines Hub on Saturday (Dec 14).
The competition, which drew participants aged between 13 and 21, was organised by the North East Community Development Council (CDC) and Care Corner Youth Go! to raise awareness of gaming addiction and mental health wellness.
Booths were set up at the event by partners such as the Singapore Association for Mental Health and charity group Touch Community Services to promote mental health services.
Touch Cyber Wellness head Shem Yao, who moderated the mental health awareness dialogue at the event, said that parents are usually the ones who flag troubling behaviour and symptoms of gaming addiction.(From left) Ong "Aeon" Wei Sheng, Martin Chok, Marcus Lim, Jeremy Oliveiro and Shem Yao at Our Tampines Hub on Dec 14, 2019. PHOTO: The Straits Times
More attuned and sensitive to their children's behaviour, he said parents usually notice these symptoms which include lack of sleep, poor eating habits and academic neglect. Touch Community Services tries to go beyond the symptoms to address the root causes for gaming addiction, such as anxiety and social exclusion, Mr Yao said, and its intervention programmes try to find alternatives for gaming motivations, such as forming community groups to encourage social interaction.
Mr Yao said: "We don't tell them 'Don't game', but it's about what we can do beyond that."
Mr Jeremy Oliveiro, membership chair of the Singapore Psychological Society, said the main reason for gaming addiction for some people is the lack of a sense of accomplishment in the real world.
"The gaming world is like an escape for them because, in the gaming world, you can be whoever you are, your identity is very different... and there's a certain freedom that comes with that mask or avatar, which is why they feel more confident or more successful in the gaming world," said Mr Oliveiro, who was one of the panellists at the dialogue.
North East District Mayor Desmond Choo noted that the CDC was using gaming for the first time as a platform to promote mental wellness. He added that gaming is "very accessible" to youth.
"The message that we want a lot of our younger Singaporeans to know is that while you game as a way to de-stress, it can lead to addiction (and other problems)," he said, adding that social stigma was a key problem since it deterred youths from seeking help.
Mr Choo, an MP for Tampines GRC, added: "What we're trying to promote is not that gaming is bad, but to practise responsible gaming."
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.