It might have been an all-too-familiar a sight for some parents this March Break: a child or teen sitting on the couch or at the computer, playing a video game for several hours on end.

But experts say video game binging can be a real problem and a real addiction for some young people.

Addictions counsellor Ben Wong says about 10 to 12 per cent of those who play video games fit the criteria to be considered problem gamers.

“The typical average of those who come in to seek help, they would be gaming for at least 10 hours a day,” Wong told CTV Vancouver.

However, he’s seen worse.

“I’ve had cases going upwards to 18 to 20 hours a day,” he said.

Teen Andrew MacDonald says he learned the hard way about the addictive potential of video games. “Amongst the people in the game that I played, I was seen as a god among men,” MacDonald told CTV Vancouver. “I was a tyrant. I could do what I want.”

MacDonald became so engrossed in one particular computer game that he would spend most of his days in front of it. At one point, he says he spent 64 hours playing the game over a 72-hour time period.

“It literally just consumed my life,” MacDonald said. “I was depressive. I was suicidal at one point. It was really nasty because I had no joy in what I was doing at all.”

MacDonald says his real life suffered significantly because of his addiction. “I lost my job, I lost my relationship. My father sat me down and said, ‘You’re completely estranged from your family. We have no idea who you are or what you do with your life anymore’.”

MacDonald went to Wong for counselling and eventually came to re-examine his priorities in life. Now he travels, he spends time with family, and he can play a video game for a brief session without it turning into a gaming marathon.

Wong says video game designers use “cutting edge” psychological research to “hook” their audiences into the kind of behaviour he saw in MacDonald.

Those methods have evolved over the years to include a number of strategies to keep gamers coming back, and in some cases, to keep them paying money.

Massively multiplayer online games such as “World of Warcraft” charge players to play each month and require those players to constantly perform online chores in order to maintain their abilities.

Other games use expansion packs to add content that encourages players to buy new additions to the game that will keep them playing.

Mobile games often employ a micropurchase model that encourages players to spend small amounts of money on a regular basis in order to achieve in-game goals faster. These games are often inexpensive or free upfront, but they make their money from in-app purchases.

Ninety-eight of Apple’s top 100 highest-grossing mobile game apps are free to play, including its top-earning performer, “Clash of Clans.”

“It’s so hard to deal with when you’re really into it,” MacDonald said.

With files from CTV Vancouver