ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (KDVR) — Inside Michael Zhang’s Englewood bedroom, his fingers dance across a computer keyboard with ease.

Within just a few minutes, the 14-year-old is moving on to the next level of the video game he’s playing.

But Zhang doesn’t spend much time in front of the computer these days, as he works to overcome an addiction that’s becoming more prevalent in American youth: an addiction to video games.

“I thought it was just normal, and it had become sort of a routine for me,” Zhang said.

Michael Zhang (KDVR)

Video game addiction takes hold in class

It all started during the pandemic, when Zhang found himself bored and unchallenged by remote learning. He started playing video games during class once he had finished his assignment, and it quickly spiraled out of control.

“I was playing most of the time, but sometimes I would listen to the teacher for a little bit to determine if I had to pay attention or not,” he said.

When school returned to in-person learning, Zhang said, he kept playing games in class, clicking away whenever a teacher would walk by.

“Since we were in person, the teachers could figure it out,” he said, “and they started emailing my parents, and they also sent me to the dean’s multiple times.”

“So that was very alarming, and I was really worried,” said his mom, Xiuping Wang.

Wang said she wasn’t sure what to do, so she started ordering Michael to leave the house and get outside. The idea worked, and Michael quickly took to playing soccer with his friends for hours every day.

“The sports have helped me get away from the video games and made me realize that during my free time, I’m not dependent on video games,” Zhang said.

Video game addiction classified as mental health disorder

The ninth grader at Cherry Creek High School is now sharing his story in hopes other students can benefit. A recent TED Talk he put on has been viewed tens of thousands of times.

The World Health Organization now classifies video game addiction as a mental health disorder, with millions of kids worldwide believed to be addicted to gaming. 

“They’re fun and enjoyable sometimes, but you don’t need them,” he said. “What really helped for me was finding a new hobby and passion.”