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 Clearly this is three years out of date now.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?