Video Game Addiction

game addiction by david stroud

Video games addiction is use of computer and video games to make life bearable. Instances have been reported in which users play compulsively, isolating themselves from family and friends or from other forms of social contact, and focus almost entirely on in-game achievements rather than other life events, and exhibit lack of imagination and mood swings. There is no formal diagnosis of video game addiction in current medical or psychological literature.

Inclusion of it as a psychological disorder has been proposed and rejected for the next version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). However, some scholars suggest the effects (or symptoms) of video game overuse may be similar to those of other proposed psychological addictions. Video game overuse may be like compulsive gambling, an impulse control disorder.

According to Griffiths, ‘all addictions (whether chemical or behavioral  are essentially about constant rewards and reinforcement.’ Griffiths believed that addiction has six components: salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict, and relapse. Some scholars suggest that psycho-social dependence, if it occurs, may revolve around the intermittent reinforcements in the game and the need to belong. Some scholars claim that the social dependence that may arise from video games occurs online where players interact with others and the relationships ‘often become more important for gamers than real-life relationships.’ However this is not a view which is generally accepted among all scholars. In fact, one of the most commonly used instruments for the measurement of such addiction, the PVP Questionnaire (Problem Video Game Playing Questionnaire) was presented as a quantitative measure, not as a diagnostic tool. One meta-analytic review of pathological gaming studies concluded that pathological gaming behaviors were more likely the product of underlying mental health problems rather than the inverse.

A report by the Council On Science And Public Health to the AMA cited a 2005 Entertainment Software Association survey of computer game players and noted that players of MMORPGs (e.g. ‘World of Warcraft’) were more likely to play for more than two hours per day than other gamers. In its report, the Council used this two-hour-per-day limit to define ‘gaming overuse,’ citing the American Academy of Pediatrics guideline of no more than one to two hours per day of ‘screen time.’ Other critics have satirized the idea of MMORPG addiction, illustrating that the genre has built-in mechanisms for burning-out players, which is contrary to the concept of addiction. However, in 2007, Michael Cai, director of broadband and gaming for Parks Associates (a media/technology research and analysis company), said that ‘Video game addiction is a particularly severe problem in Asian countries such as China and Korea.’

In 2005, the government of the People’s Republic of China, where more than 20 million people play online games, introduced an online gaming restriction limiting playing time to three hours, after which the player would be expelled from whichever game they were playing. In 2006, it relaxed the rule so only citizens under the age of 18 would face the limitations. Reports indicate underage gamers found ways to circumvent the measure. In 2007, the rule was relaxed yet again. Internet games operating in China must require that users identify themselves by resident identity numbers. After three hours, players under 18 are prompted to stop and ‘do suitable physical exercise.’ If they continue, their characters gain 50% of the usual experience. After five hours, their characters gain no experience at all.

Excessive use of video games may have some or all of the symptoms of drug addiction or other proposed psychological addictions. Some players become more concerned with their interactions in the game than in their broader lives. Players may play many hours per day, neglect personal hygiene, gain or lose significant weight due to playing, disrupt sleep patterns to play resulting in sleep deprivation, play at work, find themselves in the middle of nowhere looking into space for a considerable amount of time, avoid phone calls from friends, or lie about how much time they spend playing video games. In one extreme instance, it was reported that a seventeen year old boy would play for periods of up to 15 hours, skipping meals and only stopping when he blacked out.

Other scholars have cautioned that comparing the symptoms of problematic gaming with problematic gambling is flawed, and that such comparisons may introduce research artifacts and artificially inflate prevalence estimates. For instance Richard Wood has observed that behaviors which are problematic in regards to gambling may not be as problematic when put into the context of other behaviors that are rewarding such as gaming. Similarly Barnett and Coulson have cautioned that discussions of problematic gaming have moved forward prematurely without proper understanding of the symptoms, proper assessment and consequences.

Some theorists focus on presumed built-in reward systems of the games to explain their potentially addictive nature. In reference to gamers such as one suicide in China, the head of one software association was quoted, ‘In the hypothetical world created by such games, they become confident and gain satisfaction, which they cannot get in the real world.’ Ferguson, Coulson and Barnett in a meta-analytic review of the research, concluded that the evidence suggests that video game addiction arises out of other mental health problems, rather than causing them. Thus it is unclear whether video game addiction should be considered a unique diagnosis.

Researchers at the University of Rochester and Immersyve, Inc. (a Celebration, Florida, computer gaming Think-tank) investigated what motivates gamers to continue playing video games. According to lead investigator Richard Ryan, they believe that players play for more reasons than fun alone. Ryan, a motivational psychologist at Rochester, says that many video games satisfy basic psychological needs, and players often continue to play because of rewards, freedom, and a connection to other players.

Globally, there have been deaths caused directly by exhaustion from playing games for excessive periods of time. In 2007, it was reported that Xu Yan died in Jinzhou after playing online games persistently for over 2 weeks during the Lunar New Year holiday. Later 2007 reports indicated that a 30-year-old man died in Guangzhou after playing video games continuously for three days. The suicide of a young Chinese boy in the Tianjin municipality has highlighted once more the growing dangers of game addiction, when those responsible do not understand or notice the risks of unhealthy play. Xiao Yi was thirteen when he threw himself from the top of a twenty-four story tower block in his home town, leaving notes that spoke of his addiction and his hope of being reunited with fellow cyber-players in heaven. The suicide notes were written through the eyes of a gaming character. His parents, who had noticed with growing concern his affliction, weren’t mentioned in the letters.

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