Anyone old enough to remember Video Arcades will probably remember when video games cost a quarter to play. And yet, there were always those who managed to spend entire days playing. Even in the 1970s there was evidence that some people were becoming hooked.
Whether video game playing is a ‘real’ addiction is disputable. Certainly there are people who play a great deal. The question revolves around whether players suffer the compulsions, cravings, and withdrawal associated with the word addict.
The American Psychiatric Association voted on the matter in 20071: “The APA defines mental disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Since the current edition, DSM-IV-TR, does not list “video game addiction,” the APA does not consider “video game addiction” to be a mental disorder at this time. If the science warrants it, this proposed disorder will be considered for inclusion in DSM-V, which is due to be published in 2012.”
Other academics disagree. If you use the less technical definition of addiction – pathological use that is damaging functioning – then video games are addictive and 8.5% of American youths (8 to 18) are addicted.2
Parallels of Video Game Addiction
For those who are deeply involved in the gamer world, and for their friends and families, Multi-Player Online Role Playing Games (MORPGs) are the heroin of the virtual community. These games are very realistic graphically and allow gamers to interact with each other. Some will describe it as “reality without all the clutter” and playing them can seem quite similar to drug addiction.
These games seem to suck time in a useless activity and the gamer gets unnaturally focused on the fantasy world in favor of the real world. They may play for endless hours, develop deep bonds and emotional relationships with other players, and even spend real money to obtain virtual goods.
There can be physical and social harm that results from gaming addiction. In the study referenced above, a pathological gamer was someone who, “…played video games 24 hours per week, about twice as much as non-pathological gamers. They also were more likely to have video game systems in their bedrooms, reported having more trouble paying attention in school, received poorer grades in school, had more health problems, were more likely to feel "addicted," and even stole to support their habit.”
Consensus on Video Game Addiction
Despite the argument about terminology (addicted vs. not addicted) it is clear that some people find themselves devoting too much time and energy to these fantasy worlds and need help. It may be the symptom of other problems, such as an inability to form social bonds with peers in the real world. Treatment for video game addiction would be based on the traditional methods for substance abuse or a gambling addiction – pairing abstinence with individualized help with whatever larger issues emerge.
photo by Michal Zacharzewski