Did 'Madden' tournament gunman have gaming addiction?

Court filings: David Katz went days without showering while playing video games

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Concerns about how much time people should spend playing video games were thrust into the spotlight with Sunday's deadly mass shooting at the "Madden NFL 19" tournament at The Jacksonville Landing.

Court filings show the shooting suspect was hospitalized twice in Maryland psychiatric facilities as a teen, and that his mother said he was so addicted to gaming that he neglected to take care of himself.

People who play video games too much can get addicted to the thrill, said Wolfson Children's Center psychiatrist Dr. Rajiv Loungani. In fact, the World Health Organization recently classified it as a disorder.

"In a way, it can be just like drugs in that you get this dopamine reward from playing," said Loungani, "and then your brain needs more and more of it to get the same effect."

He said people who have gaming disorder can wind up spending so much time playing video games that it interferes with everything else, from school work to household chores to personal hygiene.

Those behaviors are similar to what shooting suspect David Katz's mother documented years before police said he went on a shooting spree Sunday, killing two gamers and injuring 10 others.

According to reports listed in Katz's parents divorce filings, Katz would spend as many as four consecutive days in his room playing video games, often without eating or taking a shower.

Loungani said that kind of behavior is a sign something else may have been wrong. In fact, the court documents said Katz was prescribed for anti-psychotic and anti-depressant medications in his teens.

"There might have been an underlying issue with how much social isolation he was engaged in and maybe treatment on that front could have been helpful," he said.

Loungani said excessive gaming is not scientifically linked to violence. But, he said, it could signal that someone has another condition, such as anxiety or depression.

What is gaming disorder?

Please note: Studies suggest gaming disorder affects only a fraction of people who play video games. Gaming disorder is defined by the following behaviors:

  • Loss of control over how often one plays games
  • Prioritizing video games over other daily activities
  • Continued gaming despite negative consequences

Source: World Health Organization

When it comes to video games, he said, moderation is key. He said parents should limit game time to an hour a day for children and two hours a day for teens.

"For most people, it can be a healthy coping skill, a harmless hobby that can be fun and relaxing," said Loungani. "However, I think if it becomes excessive to the point where you're neglecting other activities and your responsibilities, that's when it becomes an issue."

There are treatment options available for gaming disorders, and parents should call their doctors for guidance if they believe their children are showing warning signs.