[This piece originally appeared in PC Gamer six months ago. It's the result of about four months of investigation into the connections between PC gaming and addiction. I interviewed some of those leading the field in treatment for what they believe to be gaming addiction (including Keith Bakker, head of the Smith And Jones Center in Holland, famous for being the first to offer treatment for gaming addicts), and those arguing that there is no such thing, as well as speaking to people who have suffered as a result of gaming, and those looking to offer simply research (including the team behind Project Massive). The aim was to write a non-sensational piece that approached the subject objectively, without an agenda to prove things one way or the other. A big credit and huge thanks must go to PC Gamer's deputy editor, Tim Edwards, and editor, Ross Atherton, both of whom provided huge amounts of help, support and direction for compiling this enormous lump of work into something readable.]
“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? Read the rest of this entry »