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Game Addiction – How Real Is The Risk? (Updated)

We’ve all heard horror stories about people who have become addicted to online gaming. They seem almost unreal, and can be entertaining because of that. But when you consider the reality of the people behind the following stories, it’s clear there is a deadly serious side to the issue of game addiction.

Everything In Moderation

Did you know that at it’s height over 12 million people around the world played World of Warcraft? It is the most popular MMORPG out there, but healthcare experts have condemned it as the ‘crack cocaine’ of the gaming world. Seriously. The Swedish National Institute of Public Health backed a report saying just this after reading the findings of Sweden’s Youth Care Foundation research. Overreaction? Maybe not. Read on:

A Chinese boy jumped out of a 24-story window on December 27, 2004 and his suicide was attributed to his addiction to the WOW. He believed he would be able to meet his favourite Night Elf if he died, and logged on to bid his fellow gamers goodbye before jumping.

A 28-years-old man living in Beijing, nickname “Snowly”, died after playing “World of Warcraft” for several continuous days during the national day holiday. Due to the holiday he had more time than usual on his hands, and ended up spending all of it online. Lee Seung Seop played Starcraft for so long that he forgot to eat or drink, and finally collapsed and died at his terminal. He died of heart failure due to dehydration and exhaustion.

In Incheon, South Korea, a 4-month-old child died when her parents forgot about her whilst gaming at an internet café. World of Warcraft sucked them in to the point that they lost track of time, spending over 5 hours in the café. During this period the infant had rolled onto her stomach and suffocated herself. The couple have been charged with involuntary manslaughter.

One gamer at an addiction centre is focussed solely on World of Warcraft to the point of addiction. Just as with a drug addiction his life is starting to unravel. The addict is in his mid-20s and has dropped out of college, lost a number of jobs, lost his long-term partner, and is on the edge of slipping into homelessness. Despite all this, just like any drug or alcohol addict he is adamant that he doesn’t have a problem. Luckily his family realised what was happening, staged an intervention and he is now getting treatment at an addiction centre.

Professional View

Eric Zehr, who is vice-president of the addiction and behavioural services at the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery was quoted as saying “We are seeing more and more adults and adolescents struggling with real world relationships because of virtual world relationships they have created,” This institute is working with fellow professionals in South Korean to try and break the gaming addictions that are being presented more and more often at their clinics. South Korea favours a ‘boot camp’ approach. In China they prefer an even more draconian approach, but banning gaming for more than three hours at a stretch. Many vendors are licenced to prescribe online, but who can offer therapy for games addicts? It’s a relatively new field, but one that has been forced to grow in the last few years.

Addiction definition

A large part of the problem surrounding video gaming addiction is the fact that it is not yet truly recognized as an addiction in the same way that drugs, alcohol or gambling are.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th Edition) fails to include video gaming as an official addiction and there are currently no plans to include it in the next edition which is being worked on for release in 2013. What this means is that with the lack of a formal diagnosis many individuals such as the aforementioned examples are being left to their own devices and without the intervention of family or in the worst cases the police authorities then no resolution is ever reached. Of course this also means that the addict themselves is even more reluctant to acknowledge they have a problem in the absence of a clear medical path following such an admission.

This leaves many addicts and families in denial and also means that the problem is somewhat swept under the carpet and seen as a joke or not as bad as it seems. Fortunately, in terms of those affected at a concerning level of gaming addiction it is estimated that between 10-15% exhibit signs indicative of meeting the World Health Organisation’s definition of an addiction.

Clinically addictive

A large issue when talking about gaming being clinically addictive is that by their very nature video games are designed to be addictive. In order to keep people playing the game and ultimately buying more games and accessories video games are compelling enough to enable gaming achievements whilst maintaining the element of challenge to keep individuals progressing through the game’s levels. Whilst obviously video game designers don’t intend for consumers to become uncontrollably addicted, the hooks within games to keep people playing are intentional. As such those without powers to know when to stop could almost be described as collateral damage in terms of the overall gaming business, which is reported will be worth $115 billion by 2015.

Whilst addiction that affects a person’s ability to function in ‘real life’ is tragic the truth is that in terms of genuine medical addiction it is broadly acknowledged that some people are more prone than others. Those that are naturally outcasts, live isolated lives, struggle to build relationships of any kind even with family or those that seek out ‘highs’ are more liable to be affected by addiction not exclusively to gaming.

Increased hormone levels

What is true about gaming is that studies have found that dopamine levels are increased when playing a game. Dopamine is a hormone that affects a persons mood – increased levels indicate pleasure and the feelings this brings to a person makes them likely to want to sustain them as long as possible.

Whether or not gaming addiction will ever become medically recognised as a condition remains unknown however there are currently support groups out there that aim to help those who feel their gaming activities are out of hand. Perhaps somewhat ironically these groups are mainly online organisations which for some worst case scenarios would be too much of a temptation.

Self Help

If you or someone close to you is showing signs of over-involvement in online gaming you are right to be concerned. Not many people realise that addiction is simply a mechanism of the mind, which can be triggered by any pleasure-giving pursuit. An ‘addiction’ can be usefully defined as any activity which interferes with ‘real life’ – like work commitments, relationships, friendships or family relationships. If you’d rather be gaming than devoting time to these ‘real world’ relationships then you could be on your way to an addiction. Be vigilant with yourself. Most addicts, or those approaching addiction are dimly aware of the fact. Listen to that voice that is suggesting caution. Recognise that the side that says, ‘Just another hour’ could be the voice that is leading you to self-harm. Trust your instincts. If you or a friend feels out of control of your gaming seek help. There’s no shame in it. It’s quite common, in fact. Get outside. Switch it off. Breath the air. Feel the sunshine, spend time laughing with friends. Live in the real world, just for a day or two. Don’t get sucked in. There are places that can help you get the right balance back into your life. Ring them. You don’t want to end up as one of the horror stories that someone else reads about online.

Online Gaming Anonymous

Lily has always been an avid gamer and has, in the past, struggled with WoW before going entirely cold turkey. She still has a borderline obsession with Minecraft, however!

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