On Aug. 5, 2005, Lee Seung Sop, a middleaged South Korean man, went into cardiac arrest due to exhaustion after playing the computer real-time-strategy game, Star Craft for nearly 50 hours straight. On Oct. 20, 2007, Ohio teen Daniel Petric shot both of his parents in the head after they took away his copy of Halo 3.
Although not yet officially recognized as an addiction by the American Medical Association, video game dependence is as real as any drug addiction, and often just as harmful. Regular gamers can often spiral down into compulsive and addictive behavior such as skipping school and work to play, stealing from friends and parents to buy more games and behaving aggressively when confronted about their gaming. Gamers’ responses to psychiatrist’s questions even mirror those from alcoholics and drug addicts.
Steve Pope, a therapist in the England was interviewed for popular gaming magazine 1up.
“Two hours of gaming equals a line of cocaine in the high that it produces,” Pope said.
The mother of one of Pope’s patients said that buying her son his first video game was like buying him a first shot of whiskey.
Peter Yellowlees is a clinical psychiatrist at the UC Davis Mind Institute. He said that video games are designed on a task-reward system. This means that the player is given a task (a mission, a quest, a level, course, etc), and once the task is completed, the gamer is rewarded, usually with an upgrade, a new item, a new level, etc. Being rewarded stimulates the reward center of the brain by releasing large amounts of endorphins. It is this natural high of accomplishment that addicts gamers.
UC Davis junior Jason Wu enjoys playing Street Fighter III: First Strike at the MU arcade. To an inexperienced player, the game looks like a bunch of glorified button-mashing.
“This is one of the most popular games here. There is always someone playing,” Wu said. “The game is really deep. You have to be thinking 100 percent.”
Despite the simplicity of the controls, just a joystick and two buttons, the speed of the game requires intense concentration and well developed hand-eye coordination.
Video games contain “hooks” that keep players playing for hours. The most notable hooks are the High Score and “Beating the Game.” The High Score is the most powerful hook, and players will spend hours trying to beat old high scores, even if that score is their own. The desire to “beat the game” is exacerbated as the gamer unlocks more and more features within the game. MMORPGs (Massive Multi-Player Online Role-Playing Games) are often the most addictive of all game types because there is no end to the game.
Yellowlees said the amount of time spent gaming is the real problem, not the video games themselves.
“[People] spend far too much time playing,” Yellowlees said. “This leads to problems in their home lives, social lives and academic lives.”
Addiction is a diagnosis that is given on an individual basis by not only the behavior indicative of addiction, but also the patient’s past history. According to data from the Smith and Jones Center in Amsterdam, a clinic that treats video game addiction, nearly eight in 10 gaming addicts were bullied in school and used gaming as an escape. For socially maladjusted youth, video games provide a level of control unavailable to them in the real world.
Children who play sports or take part in other extracurricular social activities are at less risk than children who have little to no group interaction. Many children who play online games are uncomfortable talking with real people in real time. Online, there is time to edit what you say and no risk if you say the wrong thing.
Yellowlees said it is always important to maintain a diverse lifestyle that has a healthy portion of interactions with real people. Social skills are harder to develop as you get older. Forgoing those skills is not worth the time spent building a level 70 Paladin.
For more information on video game addiction, visit video-game-addiction.org.
HUDSON LOFCHIE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.