What Is The Truth About Gaming Addiction?

By John Walker on December 6th, 2010 at 11:45 pm.

What is the truth about gaming addiction?

In response to tonight’s episode of Panorama, and the accompanying discussion of the subject at the moment, I’m reprinting an article I wrote in 2007 about the subject of gaming addiction. Originally written for PC Gamer, my intention was to explore the subject from an investigative angle, rather than as an attempt to prove an agenda of either side. Sadly, I’ve yet to see another piece approaching the subject in the same way in the years since. In the hope of throwing out a little evidence at this time, I’m re-posting it below. Clearly this is three years out of date now. The most crucial change since it was written is Keith Bakker’s complete reversal of his beliefs given at the time, now no longer recognising compulsive gaming as addiction, and no longer treating it. This change has a significant impact upon how the piece is read.

“Ready for this?” he asks, his voice speeding up. “I believe gaming is currently the greatest threat to our society.”

Keith Bakker is the man behind the Smith & Jones Centre for addiction, the clinic at the centre of the current controversy over gaming addiction. It all began in July last year when the centre caught the attention of the world’s press, opening the first dedicated gaming addiction clinic, both as an out-patient programme, and then later, a residential treatment programme. Having noticed that an increasing number of their chemically addicted clients seemed to be compulsively playing games, the staff began to recognise many of the traits that indicate addiction: an inability to regulate how much time was spent playing them, continuing to play despite the negative effects on their lives, and a progressive worsening of their relationship with games.

They believed it was something very serious, and soon the clinic was taking in clients purely for their gaming habit. “A typical client would be in his late teens, he’s probably from a broken home,” says Bakker. “He doesn’t socialise, and he’s probably stopped going to school. He plays games for around 15 hours a day, and cannot regulate himself.”

So why does Britain’s industry representative, ELSPA, say there’s no such thing as gaming addiction? And why does Dr Richard Wood of the International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University describe it as a “myth”? Is gaming an innocent pastime, or about to bring down civilisation as we know it? What are the responsibilities for the gaming industry? How is gaming affecting us? What is the truth about gaming addiction?

smith & jones wild horses center

The Argument For

There are tragic stories out there. 21 year old Shawn Woolley killed himself in 2002 after prolonged stints playing EverQuest for 12 hours a day. In 2004, Zhang Xiaoyi threw himself out of a 24th floor window after 36 hours playing World of Warcraft. And the Daily Mail exploded last year with the tales of Leo Barbero, a 17 year old whose muscles had atrophied after spending 18 hours a day, once more, with WoW. These are horrific tales, inextricably linked with playing games, but are they caused by games? Were these people addicted in such a way that their fates were sealed? In other words, could we be in trouble?

“There’s a lot of press that would love for me to become the anti-gaming guy,” explains Keith Bakker, director of the Dutch Smith & Jones clinic. “But I’m not going to do that. As crazy as it sounds, I’m not even against drugs. I mean, if you can take drugs safely, go ahead. What I am against is addiction.”

A former addict himself, Bakker was working in the music industry when he faced his own alcoholism and heroin addiction. Based in the Netherlands, he could find no abstinence-based (Twelve Step) centres in the country, and sought treatment in the UK. Determined to prevent others from having to do the same, he established the Smith & Jones Centre in Holland to offer the services he had required. He is in no doubt that gaming is addictive.

It’s about an inability to self-regulate, he claims. “I’m an alcoholic, you might not be,” says Bakker. “We could agree to go to a bar for a couple of drinks until 9pm. Come 9pm, you’d go home. I’d go to Mexico.” It’s this lack of self-control that he says first shows problem behaviours in the gamer. “A gaming addict may sit down to play for an hour, but they won’t be able to stop. They’ll play for sixteen hours, and miss school or work. But then the next time they believe they’ll be able to control themselves, and they repeat it again.” He adds Einstein’s words, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Bakker is of the school of addictionologists who believe that twenty percent of people are born with a genetic predisposition to addiction. The US National Institute of Heath backs this up, their paper, “Drugs, Brains, and Behavior – The Science of Addiction,” stating,

“genetic factors account for between 40 and 60 percent of a person’s vulnerability to addiction, including the effects of environment on gene expression and function.”

But it shouldn’t be forgotten that trauma can lead to addiction as well, points out games researcher, and self-diagnosed gaming addict, Neils Clark. “We can develop an addiction through a severe enough disturbance in our everyday lives,” he goes on. “If we play in a healthy manner, and experience something along those lines, it can cause us to let our gaming fall out of balance.” It’s striking to talk to Clark. As someone who cannot regulate himself when gaming, and someone who struggles as a consequence of this, it brings the subject home. People seem to be suffering.

“In high school I went to this group therapy,” says Neils. “My sister had gone to rehab for heavy drug use, so I went into the therapy in order to see what she was dealing with. A lot of the people there were 50, alcoholics, meth users, previously convicts, you know. When it came time I talk about my problems, I said, ‘Gee, I don’t know, I think I just play games too much.’ They laughed, naturally.” Now he is off games, having managed to successfully play sensibly for a couple of months, until a recent collapse with a nineteen hour Civilisation binge. Clark wants people to pin down an understanding of gaming addiction. “We do need some baseline, so that we can start to help people who are flipping BMWs and jumping from buildings. We need that right now.”

In his essay, Are Games Addictive: The State of Science, Clark explains, “A normal personality usually has a number of activities that they regularly use to feel excited, relaxed, or what have you. Yet people are drawn to some things over others. A huge gambling win is more attractive than cleaning a toilet. For most people. When the soon-to-be addict finds that special activity, they can have [an] ‘aha’ moment… At its most extreme, such a behavioural addiction dominates a person’s life. They need the activity, and they’ll sacrifice nearly anything – long term plans, the company of people, even work in order to have it.”

The argument goes: someone who continues to play games despite these negative consequences directly affecting their life and relationships, is showing signs of addiction. Bakker, perhaps unsurprisingly, takes it one stage further. He says the addiction is a chemical one.

This is thanks to dopamine, the naturally occurring neurohormone released in the brain, used to fire up the pleasure and reward areas. Gaming, as anyone who has hunched over their keyboard, breath held, heart racing, will know, is stimulating. This gets our glands churning out dopamine, our neurons get wired, and we feel that rush of reward and pleasure. The argument made by both Bakker and Clark is that repeating this process enough causes our brain to become accustomed to it, which means we need to work harder to get the same level of stimulation. This, it is claimed, gives us the progressive behaviour needed for addiction. And Clark’s essay observes, “When the dopamine producing behaviour is finally stopped, the brain isn’t used to the lowered dopamine levels. At this point, craving and addiction enter the picture.”

dopamine

The Argument Against

“There is no such clinical criteria as ‘video game addiction’,” states Dr Richard Wood. His forthcoming paper, The Myth of Video Game “Addiction” argues, “It has not been acknowledged by any reputable organisation responsible for defining disorders of the mind or body (e.g., The American Psychiatric Association, The World Health Organisation etc.).” (It should be noted that the APA are currently investigating the topic to consider whether they will recognise it).

His analysis of the cases of claimed gaming addiction have lead him to conclude four main considerations necessary for the debate:

1. That some people are being mislabeled “addicts” by concerned parents, partners or others, when they have no problems with their game playing behaviour.
2. That some people who have other underlying problems may choose to play games to avoid dealing with those problems.
3. That some people who are concerned about their own behaviour because of either 1 or 2 above end up labeling themselves as video game “addicts.”
4. That some people are not very good at managing how much time they spend playing video games.

It’s by these same criteria that ELSPA, the industry representative for British gaming, deny the existence of gaming addiction. Their website, Ask About Games, was set up to answer key questions for a non-gaming audience, and at the top of its FAQ appears, “Is it possible for my child to become addicted to games?” Their answer in full:

“People play games because they enjoy them; and some people enjoy them more than others. A casual book reader will read books as part of their daily activities, and may well exercise or socialise. A person who absolutely loves books may be blinkered to everything else that goes on around them (the same goes for people who watch too many movies, or too much TV). Games playing is simply another daily activity that gives people pleasure. If they don’t enjoy the games, they won’t play them. If they do, they may play them occasionally, or as much as possible. Playing computer and video games is not a physical addiction.”

But how does ELSPA respond to the rapidly increasing belief in gaming addiction? While no one at ELSPA was available for an interview, director general, Paul Jackson, sent us this quote:

“The primary enjoyment of computer and video games is entertainment and engagement. As with any enjoyable pastime there is an argument that you can over indulge, perhaps play too much. However, again with any enjoyable pastime, it goes without saying that those who play computer and video games – and parents who supervise their children’s play – need to draw the line between healthy enjoyment and playing too much. Put simply, it is important to play for a sensible amount of time. Games as a part of a healthy lifestyle, if you like.”

Once again, it comes down to self control – the very behaviour that those advocating addiction claim to be impossible for the addict. Dr Wood points out a distinction. “A young child may find it hard not to suck their thumb, many people find it difficult not to eat snacks between meals, limit the amount of coffee that they drink or the salt they put on meals.” The confusion between simple negative behaviour, and that of an addict, blurs the issue claims Wood. “Some people do not want to limit or stop playing video games, even though friends or relatives are expressing concerns. Some people may also feel personally neglected as a result of a loved one’s game playing. Media hype about video game ‘addiction’ may lead some concerned relatives to define perfectly ‘normal’ behaviour as problematic.”

So what is “perfectly normal behaviour”? Is excessive play simply a result of irresponsibility, or poor time management. Or can it be put down to a more serious factor? While acknowledging that people may turn to excessive play as a means to deal with their problems, Wood believes that this simply a symptom of their problems, and not the cause.

“Of course some people play video games excessively,” Clark explains, “but defining the point at which the behaviour becomes problematic is far from clear. If people cannot deal with their problems, and choose instead to immerse themselves in a game, then surely their gaming behaviour is actually a symptom and not the cause of their problem?”

The argument is certainly not that games are bad, from either side. Keith Bakker is quick to stress the positive sides of gaming. He explains that as a part of his programme, clients are taken paintballing. “These gamers just destroy them. We have the kids that are chemically dependent, and we have the gamers, and we put them in two teams. And at the end of the game, the chemically dependent kids – they end up looking like Rembrandt. There’s so much to be said about how these kids think, so if you can take that stuff and turn it in a positive direction, you’ve got incredible young people. It’s great fun to see these kids when they get it, when they say, ‘OK, the game is killing me. And I’m not going to do it any more.’ And all of a sudden they blossom, and that’s fun.”

Bakker’s position is not entirely helped by his lapsing into the hyperbolic. Statements like his claim of gaming’s danger to our society don’t do anything to get those who disagree with him to listen, or take him seriously. But he’s passionately convinced that gaming addiction is only treatable through complete abstinence, via a twelve-step programme; and in amongst his tendency to opt for media hype, he does have a serious point that he believes isn’t being heard.

“Gamers have a unique problem. With substance addicts, they tend to develop their addiction in their late teens or early twenties. They have developed socially beforehand. With gamers, their addiction can develop as young as ten or twelve years old, meaning they never develop socially in the real world. When they are freed from their addiction, they’re still not ready to reintegrate with society. When we treat them, we need a programme where we teach them new real-world ways to socialise.” In other words, they aren’t able to develop this self-regulation that Wood, ELSPA and others state we require.

Is this the extreme of the “geek” label? Are we, in fact, quickly dismissing those with a problem, laughingly calling them a name and leaving them to it? Or indeed laughingly calling ourselves a name, and ignoring our own situation?

Project Massive

New Findings

Surveys and papers are appearing increasingly rapidly, attempting to identify common factors among those who excessively game. Part of this is driven by our love of finding something to worry about, and since there’s been no indication that games can give us cancer, addiction might be the next best stick to hit them with. Part of it is the fear that we might be damaging ourselves unwittingly. But despite the field being extremely new, at last some research is appearing that takes a balanced and reasoned perspective. If we’re to understand where we stand with games, and whether we need to be protecting ourselves, this seems the ideal approach.

Project Massive is one of the biggest studies into online gaming and its social effects to have been carried out. The work of Ph.D. researchers A Fleming Seay and Robert E Kraut, it has followed nearly five thousand gamers over a five years, exploring their play patterns, commitment to their guilds, and changes in their personality traits such as sociability, extraversion and depression. Their [recently] published paper collating the results, Project Massive: Self-Regulation and the Problematic Use of Online Gaming, presents conclusions that, if anything, find the common ground between the opposing sides of the addiction debate.

Choosing to avoid the word “addiction” in order to escape semantic frustrations, the project uses the term “problematic use” to define a player’s negative relationship with gaming, and the consequences it may have on their lives. (It is continuing despite these negative consequences that many identify as addiction). The phrase means, “the state of powerlessness a person experiences when, despite attempts to stop or reduce their usage, they are unable to walk away from a game (or substance, or behaviour) even in the face of persistent and deleterious effects on their life.” The paper starts off stating their position on online gaming.

“One reason for the popularity of online games is that they meld the fun and challenge of video games with the social rewards of an online community. Participation in online communities allows us to stay in touch with old friends, meet new people, learn, and share information. It also enables self-exploration and discovery as users extend and idealize their existing personalities or try out new ways of relating to one another that can positively affect real life relationships.” [Project Massive: Self-Regulation and the Problematic Use of Online Gaming page 1]

These are recognisable reasons why the MMO has become so very popular. The social side is often ignored when counting the numbers of hours people spend within a game. However, this is something else in which Bakker recognises problems. He goes so far as to compare the guilds of MMOs with cults, arguing that they share a number of similar behaviour patterns. Promotion based on increased devotion, and peer pressure to keep playing, and moreso against leaving, ensnare people, argues the maverick. (“Don’t drink the Azerothian Koolaid,” grins Neils Clark). Seay and Kraut, staying far more moderate than Bakker, note (from the same paper),

“Some fear that virtual communities detract from social activity and involvement in the real world, replacing real social relationships with less robust online substitutes and causing users to turn away from more traditional media.”

The team were looking to see what caused problematic use, and who was most prone to struggle with it, believing that an inability to self-regulate would be the most likely indicator of those who would develop further problems. And this proved to be very much the case. People who found that they were bad at controlling the amount they played, or the appropriateness of when they played, showed, “significantly higher levels of future problematic use.” From this it was concluded that,

“Clearly, the self-regulatory processes are essential in allowing online gaming to remain a benign and enjoyable pass-time rather than an obstructive pre-occupation. Active self-regulation appears to be a player’s best defense.”

Seay says of the results, “It is clear from my perspective that online games are intrinsically no more ‘dangerous’ than any other recreational activity that may require a substantial commitment of resources (e.g. time, money, attention). It is always incumbent upon the individual to manage the resources they direct toward a given pursuit, and this is no more or less true of online gaming than it is of gardening or stamp collecting.” However, this doesn’t make problematic use go away, and it doesn’t remove responsibility from developers, she states.

“Absolutely not. No one is in a better position to help people with problematic usage issues than the developers. Successful self-regulation is based on monitoring one’s own behavior and comparing that behavior to internal and external standards. If, in addition to experience points and kill counts, games made a point of reporting usage information to the player in a lightweight, non-invasive, and value neutral way, the players who most need the help would be better able to manage their own behavior. Supplying an arcane and rarely used “/played” command is not enough.”

The study’s conclusion appears to indicate two things: Firstly, gaming itself is not a likely cause of addiction, but rather that those who are pre-disposed to addiction are far more likely to develop problems with gaming. Secondly, that we as gamers need to be a lot more self-aware than we perhaps currently are. But in the end, “It seems safe to say that the data provide no indication that online gaming is a broadly negative activity,” the paper reports. “On the contrary, the overwhelming majority of those surveyed indicate no elevation in loneliness, depression, or problematic use. This seems to indicate that, for most, online gaming is an adaptive and enjoyable, or at least benign, activity.”

Conclusion

Conclusion

Project Massive’s report finishes by identifying the importance of self-regulation. And it seems that this is the point that all come to from whichever side of the debate they may start.

Gaming, whether it’s biologically addictive, a severe catalyst for problematic behaviour, or a pastime capable of inspiring dangerous levels of irresponsibility, is still hurting people. By no means everyone – Bakker notes, “Yes, there are millions of people who could really be in deep shit with this. Most aren’t.” – but enough for us to start taking notice. Self-regulation – being in control of ourselves – is something that’s easy to ignore, and yet appears to be something with potentially serious consequences. It’s important to remember that being carried away by a game is not the same as being out of control – a game should have us lose track of time if it’s doing its job right. But when our lost time begins to hurt us, damage our lives, we owe it to ourselves to take that seriously.

Project Massive’s Seay believes that responsibility can lie with those around the compulsive gamer.

“I am often asked for advice by frustrated parents in regard to children who are ‘only interested in games’ and ‘spend hours playing like a zombie’. When asked what they should do I always give them the same answer, ‘Pick up the controller.’ When a parent plays video games with a child, three important things happen; the activity suddenly becomes a social one, the parent is able to model self-regulating behavior for the child, and finally, the parent is able to monitor the content of the game. All this for the low cost of spending some time with your kid doing something they are interested in.”

And the same goes for adults too.

“If more girlfriends and husbands would simply engage in the activity with their loved ones it could become a unifying forum for relational exchange rather than a divisive wedge between them. If you are interested enough in the person playing the game, it seems to me you can overcome your lack of interest in the game itself.”

These same ideas are echoed by ELSPA’s Paul Jackson. “Parents who supervise their children’s play must do so in a responsible way and act as a modifier, as they would in any other circumstance.”

When asked where he thinks responsibility lies within the gaming industry, Keith Bakker simply says, “What I appreciate is people looking at this and saying, what this can be is a problem, and if it is, you’d better get some help. But if it’s not, go ahead and enjoy your game recreationally. I believe there is a responsibility to call it what it is.” He is, in effect, asking the games industry to complete the first step of the Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Step programme: admit that it has a problem. And the same responsibility falls to us as gamers. Do you?

Useful Resources

www.neilsclark.com

A self-diagnosed games addict himself, Clark researches gaming addiction, and writes a regularly updated blog with articles on gaming addiction written in an accessible way, even to non-gamers. He is currently writing a book on the subject, with interesting insights appearing on the site.

www.projectmassive.com

The home of the recently completed Ph.D. project following nearly 5000 gamers over five years, studying the effects online gaming has had on their lives.

www.olganonboard.org

On-line Gamers Anonymous is a twelve-step, self-help organisation, for gaming addicts. They offer support to people who believe they have a gaming addiction, or their families and friends.

www.netaddiction.com

Dr. Kimberly Young is the founder of the Centre for Net Addiction Recovery, and author of Caught In The Net. Her site contains information that some are using in the study of gaming addiction.

Ask About Games

ELSPA’s gaming guide for non-gamers, including concerned parents.

GamRes

Independent research and consultancy services to help understand gaming behaviour.

Smith & Jones Wild Horses Center

Keith Bakker’s clinic in Holland that was first to treat in-patients for what they believe to be chronic gaming addiction.

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33 Comments »

  1. HexagonalBolts says:

    The whole thing is utterly ridiculous, it’s a hobby people become increasingly interested in, it’s like branding something such as reading or horse-riding or listening to music as addictive – it’s only because this is a new hobby that it particularly stands out.

    • faelnor says:

      Listening to music rarely goes associated with an active form of escapism, role playing and gaining virtual experience, power and money, socializing within that escapist context, obsessing over a higher score as a form of recognition and self esteem.
      And no one listens for the same album during twelve hours while forgetting about all the tasks of life that they need to carry out. If they did, that would be a form of addiction, and questioning music as a strong vector for escapist addiction would be perfectly acceptable.

      Your most apt comparison is reading, and yes I have been addicted with books during a part of my childhood, hampering aspects of my social development at that time. And books don’t even start to touch the possibilities of addiction reinforcement through online playing.

      So yes, it’s a hobby just like reading or gambling. Is it ridiculous? No.

    • noxxit says:

      Well there is an addiction for gambling…

      Interestingly when it comes to accredited work nobody makes a fuss about people working 12 hours and having fun. There are people that passionate about their work. Also no one cares if an artists disappears into his/her workshop for an extended period of time.

      I am not arguing that there are people who have a self-regulatory problem (which might also be induced somehow) but could we stop making such a fuss about it? It is not like there are hundreds of people dying on a daily basis because of gaming instead of maybe HIV or obesity or something.

      Gosh, I’m tired of people talking about stuff they don’t get.

    • Evil Otto says:

      Still though, I do stronly believe that I am horribly addicted to music(listening and playing). Not that I care.

    • Kadayi says:

      @noxxit

      Did anyone force you to read this article or what that show? If not, then I see little reason for your complaint tbh.

  2. kastanok says:

    I have a bookmark folder labelled ‘Finest [Gaming] Articles’. In it are four links to articles about game addiction. The original posting of this is one, one is your ‘Two Hours of Gaming the Same as Cocaine?‘ and a third is now your response to tonight’s panorama. (The fourth is Neils Clark’s Ten Game Addiction Fallacies). John Walker, your writing on video game addiction is always refreshingly clear minded.

    Is there any other web writer who addresses the subject so even handedly? Perhaps one who has come down on the other side of the fence? That list is feeling a little one sided.

  3. John Peat says:

    Great piece – utterly thorough and fascinating.

    I think the key issue is that people are not ‘addicted’ to video games anymore than people are addicted to the Gym, the Football Ground or their sofa/TV!

    Trying to suggest that games are somehow different to the 100s of other things people do to excess – and even to the extent of harming themselves – it very very very silly indeed.

  4. Lambchops says:

    I don’t know about gaming but I think I’m risking becoming addicted to forking for shoes. whatever the hell that is.

    Anyway it was with a sigh that I saw this article crop up again. not because it’s a bad article, quite the contrary. I’m simply sighing at the fact that there’s need for it to be reposted again. How many times is that now? It’s certainly a few and yet attitudes are much the same as they ever were (with the notable exception of Mr Bakker of course).

  5. Chris says:

    I dont like the way certain human behaviour is being rebranded as addiction so it can be re-classed as illness so that it can then be medicated and then profited from.

    If obsessive gamers are addicts then bookworms are bookaddicts its crazy.

    We still put drug addicts in prison, an attitude that addiction is partly subversive and in some way criminal in itself. With this happening how on earth can society have an informed and honest discourse about any kind of obsessive or addictive behaviour.

  6. Archibald says:

    I find it somewhat hilarious that it’s 2am and reading this article is the last thing I’ll do before getting back to WoW xD.

  7. noobnob says:

    A huge gambling win is more attractive than cleaning a toilet.

    But I find cleaning toilets to be a rather pleasing activi-

    For most people.

    Oh.

    Anyways, great piece John. You ought to send this to the folk behind the Panorama show (not like they will care, but worth a shot).

  8. billyphuz says:

    I think it’s funny reading the “utterly ridiculous!” tendency of the above comments. Could there possibly be a cognitive bias among the readers of a freakin’ BLOG about video games?

    I’m a bit of a student of psychology, and while no means a professional, I think addiction can manifest itself in myriad ways, and most of them are some form of escapism that interferes with life and has deleterious consequences. I’m less concerned with what the ICD thinks about the “label” of addiction vis-a-vis video games and more with the impact that any form of obsessive behavior has on the person and their family.

    • panther says:

      I just took psyc 101 as an elective, can I be a expert as well?

    • Kadayi says:

      @billyphuz

      There was a similar reaction in the previous thread on the subject, with loud proclamations of ‘preposterous’ ,etc. Much of it seemed to be a resultant of a knee jerk desire to defend the medium, which let’s be honest has been attacked by the mainstream media rather unfairly over the years. Understandable, but people shouldn’t let their passions get in the way of critical analysis of the facts as they stand. Self regulation is certainly the key.

  9. DJ Phantoon says:

    “If more girlfriends and husbands would simply engage in the activity with their loved ones it could become a unifying forum for relational exchange rather than a divisive wedge between them. If you are interested enough in the person playing the game, it seems to me you can overcome your lack of interest in the game itself.”

    I was with him until he said that starry-eyed nonsense. Some people will loathe MMORPGs down to their core as they don’t WANT to sit for six hours straight.

  10. ThinKyX says:

    First off, I want to say that I’m a gamer myself – even a student of game development -, and that I don’t like games being shown in a negative manner in any form of media, be it in relation with violence or addiction. However, I’m afraid that one can get dependent on games, quite badly even.

    As it is a form of escapism, just as listening to music, reading books, alcohol, or any drug of your choice. But, it is more like the first two, because there are nearly no physiological effects, other than some release of adrenaline. Escapism can be quite addictive, certainly if your life sucks.

    I see this, sadly enough, in a friend of mine. He’s had quite a rough few years, and he used to go out with me and some other friends a lot. Now he’s reluctant to leave the house. He’s always been into gaming, pretty hardcore even, but lately he’s been pulling away from reality. He’s seeking refuge in games, because he’s dropped out of school, he can’t keep a job and can’t find a girlfriend.

    In games, he’s a hero! And he achieves something! He’s a real achievementhunter, this friend, because that’s the only way he can find some self value. It’s really sad, and my friends and I, who are – I repeat – all gamers, have all tried redeeming him, but he’d rather game than go out and have some social contact, or do something else.

    I know, this is a very anecdotic situation, but I just wanted to tell that story. I think it’s really sad that games can have that effect on some people. Just as alcohol can have the same effect on some people. Most people never get addicted, but some personalities just can.

    Thank you for your time.

    • Delusibeta says:

      Ultimately, I’m not going to go out and say “there is no-one in the world who appears addicted to video games”. Likewise, I’m not going to go out and say “there is no-one in the world who appears addicted to the internet/television/reading/music/movies/whatever”.

  11. Gassalasca says:

    You should totally write a book about it, John.

  12. Lars says:

    Hehe.. he used the word ‘catalyst’..

  13. Catastrophe says:

    A thorough article.

    An alcoholic can’t sleep without alcohol in their blood. With lessening alcohol in their blood they gain physical factors, sweats, aches, nervous twitching, sickness, etc.

    Someone who is said to be “addicted” to games goes to bed and suffers no physical symptoms, other than maybe excitement, anticipating getting to play on something they enjoy the next day. If they stay up late to play games, it means they need better time management, its not due to suffering from any symptoms forcing them to sit and play.

    It cannot be even compared- I find its offensive to people who actually suffer from Alcoholism or Drug addiction.

    Its like saying children are addicted to Christmas because they wouldn’t dream of going to school on Christmas day, they can’t sleep the night before, they get up really early on the morning of Christmas to experience the day and the very thought of taking it away from a child and they would go bonkers.

    Its called Enjoying something- Excitement.

    That kid on Panorama simply enjoyed the game, didn’t enjoy school, given the choice many would enjoy -insert hobby- more than school and choose it over school, its the fact he was allowed to miss school and to fill the gap in with his hobby which is his and his parents fault.

  14. Xercies says:

    To be fair to the guy, he does say some interesting things inbetween the hyperbole and that may be one of the reasons he has kind of gone back on his position a little bit.

  15. The Sombrero Kid says:

    Steam is actually one of the most important tools i use in keeping track of my use it tells me how many hours i play games a week & since it added the clock to the overlay, i can now easily check the time I’ve been playing quickly with a shift-tab, i though have never had a problem with self discipline – something which incidentally can be and should be taught to everyone and is key in combating problematic use of absolutely anything.

  16. Rinox says:

    Great article John.

    The argument by Bakker that game developers should take their responsibility is true, but oh so unlikely. Trying to get players to play their game(s) as much and as often as possible is an integral part of their economic strategy and is constantly expanded on, as evidenced by the relatively recent addition of achievements and less recently, scavenge hunts.

    So no, they won’t take their responsibility if they can help it. They’ll probably go the McDonalds way: at the surface promote healthy food/gaming behaviour, put extreme disclaimers and warning on every product, and then proceed to sell addictive and healthy food/ games designed to keep drawing players in.

    Because unlike with McDo’s, every player playing playing one of their games is also a playing not playing one of the competition’s games (I mean on a subscription).

  17. Leader says:

    The “is it real” vs “is it not real” debate on video gaming addiction is watered in complicated motives from different sides and both need to be less reactionary and defensive. As someone with years of experience as a former guild leader of a hard-core raiding guild (and I do mean hard-core) I have witnessed this disease a few times and I can tell you that it is real.

    It is undoubtedly a physical disease. Whether it is technically an “addiction” or some other kind of anxiety or compulsive disorder is what should be at stake in the research done so we can develop more effective identification and treatment. Over the years I’ve had the sad experience of witnessing the game addiction destroy the lives of some who played with me. After my first experience with such compulsive behavior, I made it a strict policy that excessive peer pressure to raid was disallowed and punished. I did away with attendance requirements and the use of a DKP system to distribute loot. I observed that all three of these sources of pressure (from peers, attendance requirements, and DKP) were all potential enabling devices that could lead to someone with the disease to continue to not be well or could lead others without a serious problem to more compulsive/ obsessive behavior.

    I have seen players so addicted that I had to remove them from my guild because I could not consciously further enable their problem. These are the players who tell me stories about how they can’t hold down relationships, jobs and have few friends who don’t also game. Players who are seemingly on 24/7, have all their character slots on the server full with maxed (and geared) alts. In probably the worst moment of my gaming career, I heard one guy’s son in the background (over ventrillo) say “Dad, I only see you one day a week, let’s do something”. (you should note I don’t view this behavioral example to be an indicator of addiction alone, you’ll have to take my word that this was a by-product).

    Hours played is not an indicator of addiction. I, along with countless others I have had the pleasure of knowing/ raiding used play times that many non-gamers would surely gasp at. I got wonderful grades in college, had relationships and am pleased with my career. Hours spent at the computer is not the only issue here and probably not the main one. When you get to know someone who is an addict, there is no mistaking it. They need to play. They physically need it. Like alcoholics, they can’t sleep well without their gaming fix for the day. They don’t feel well when they are not playing and they will willingly say goodbye to friends/ spouses/ family members in order to indulge their habit.

    In every case I’ve seen, denial that there is a disease or disorder at play has been prominent and severe. I can’t tell you how irate a guild member got when I suggested (privately to him) that he seek help to cut back. He didn’t think anyone could help him, he was convinced that it was his life and that it was garbage. The compulsion to play was, for him, stronger than the desire to take care of himself. I eventually refused to let him raid for us but of course that didn’t stop him. He just joined another team happy to have such a devoted player.

    People need to get hip to the fact that each time you level, pick up loot, see something beautiful onscreen, make a new online friend, clear a dungeon, kill a raid boss, your brain gives you a little happy chemical squirt. It is physical, it is chemical and it is real. It has the potential to manifest physical addiction just like sex, chocolate, beer, all of life’s chemical pleasures.

    We need to stop selfishly defending our games and help the people who need it. People get upset when they read opinions like this because they don’t want to admit that something that they are doing and love could be physically addictive.

    Every serious gamer owes it to him/herself to evaluate their own habits and be aware of the potential danger. It is a very rare danger but I strongly encourage everyone not to be dismissive of it. I would not advise you to not have sex because you might become a sex addict.

  18. Actung Englander says:

    I am addicted to Panorama

    Is that normal ?

    I recall Panorama back in the 70s and 80s used to cover serious world affairs like the Soviet Union and the Arms Race. What with a war in Afganistan, Wikileaks, National debt, a mad North Korea, an armed Iran and an instable Pakistan its good to know the BBC have ploughed there investigative journalists into computer games and the tiny tiny minority of idiots addicted to WOW.

    Well done. Now watch Rome burn. as we play with our fiddle……….

    • Leader says:

      This is the kind of dismissive opinion that is both ignorant and offensive.

    • Actung Englander says:

      you mean I just offended the entire BBC ?

      right………………………………………………………………………

      how is this dismissive. Just how many of the millions and millions of gameplayers are really addicted ?. Less than 1% I would hazzered a guess.

      This was a documentary the Daily Mail would be proud. In any society there are addicts on every subject. Where are the documentaries on soap opera addicts, book addicts, cinema addicts, internet addicts, workaholics, football addicts – none because its too close to the bone for the most of society. So lets pick on computer games.

      I offended no one and my opinion is not dismissive. Just speaking the truth. Panorama is a shadow of what it was

    • Leader says:

      Your opinion is offensive because it dismisses addiction as something that doesn’t deserve journalistic attention. Targeting addiction is not the same thing as “picking on video games”. As video games rise in popularity as a new force in popular media, associated public health concerns should also be considered.

    • Kadayi says:

      Yeah I’m with leader on this. You seem to have gone for the (un)funny (like people attempted in the previous thread about the show) whilst completely missing the point.

    • Eversor says:

      ” As video games rise in popularity as a new force in popular media, associated public health concerns should also be considered.”

      Considered, I would agree. Not demonized and being judged guilty until proven otherwise.

      These addictions are always just a symptom to an underlying, deeper issue. Sure, symptoms are bad. But to cure a person, you have to reach the actual cause of his problems, not just condemn the symptom to everything, chug some pills and back to being a productive member of the society. I know that chugging a pill is the preferable answer to every single 21st century problem, but it just doesn’t cut it. At best, you just delay the consequences, possibly trading the symptom of compulsive gaming to alcocholism, drug abuse et cetera.

      It’s not the articles about “gaming addiction” that bother me. It’s the continuous refusal of actually looking into the issues and coming to a realization that each and every psychological addiction stems from much bigger issues within one’s life. Yet again, cure the disease, instead of treating the symptoms.

      Of course, the cynic in me just says that selling treatment to symptoms is more profitable than curing the disease, and thus avoided. After all, many such cause problems could be solved by simply devoting your precious time to the one you care about and talking through it, getting to the bottom of it. Alas, that doesn’t make money. So come on down do WoW detox dot com or whatever the hell else wondercure site and solve your problems for measily grand a month!

  19. Dagda says:

    THANK you. Instead of just “defending games” (i.e. jumping at a chance to get our attention and shoot some fish in a barrel), you’ve elevated the matter towards a genuinely constructive discussion. (Sure, it’s not exactly hard to repost an old piece, but still).

    Also, props to Steam (as a few others have acknowledged) for providing exactly the kind of value-neutral usage metrics described in one of those excerpts. Never realized how useful they’ve been for me personally in terms of managing my time.

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