Game Addiction: Real Problem or Scapegoat

By Mike on 9:44 am

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Gamers can usually be placed into three categories. Your casual gamer plays video games every so often, maybe less than an hour or two a week. Hardcore gamers use gaming as their primary hobby and may spend many hours a week gaming. Intermediate gamers like myself fall somewhere in between. However, is there a fourth category? In recent years, some psychiatrists have been proposing that there is a new mental illness in our society: gaming addiction. These are people who play video games obsessively. They spend all their free time gaming alone or online. They may start to ignore their jobs, their school, their family, even eating and their own personal hygiene to play games. There have been many recent high profile cases regarding so called addicts. Perhaps the most famous was of a South Korean gentleman who died at an internet cafe after playing the popular MMO World of Warcraft for several days strait. In Toronto this week, the big story is of a 15 year old boy who ran away after his parents confiscated his Xbox 360 after he had been obsessively playing Call of Duty 4 online. This boy has been missing for several days and has led to frantic searches

Despite these high profile cases, psychologists are far from reaching any sort of consensus on this issue. Like sex addiction, a sizable number feel that game addiction is not a real condition. At current, the WHO does not recognize it as a legitimate psychological problem. This hasn't stopped the media from blaming game addiction for when things go wrong. TV "psychiatrist" (his official job title is "life coach") Dr. Phil famously put his foot in his mouth when he blamed violent video games for the Virginia Tech Massacre. In reality, the shooter, though he had been playing violent games, had been deeply disturbed to begin with and had stopped taking his meds. The TV life coach is now speaking out against game addiction despite a lack of credible academic studies into the condition. For Phil McGraw though, it's not whether a condition is legitimate or not. It's what gets him ratings and what sells his books. The media has long enjoyed lambasting video games for society's ills since it makes a good story. It's not too different from out parents' days when TV was blamed for child deliquency. Games are a convenient scapegoat and distract us from focusing on the root causes of problems.

I don't have a degree is psychology, nor have I even attended a psychology course. However, from my own life experiences and the ones of those around me, I have come to this conclusions. When it comes to non-chemical addictions, the addiction itself is a symptom rather than the ailment. In other words, the addiction is being used by people to medicate some other problem. So yes, game addiction is real in a sense. Society tends to treat these kinds of addictions as if they were isolated in a bubble, which you can't do. A online gaming addict may be doing so because they feel isolated in the real world. It's a form of human contact where they can freely interact with people and be someone they're not. So to cure the addiction, you have to cure the root cause first. There is no such thing as a game that is deliberately addictive. We may call a game such since it draws us in but the vast majority of us wouldn't do so to the point where it was interfering with our life's priorities. We have to stop blaming the games themselves before we can treat the real problems of "gaming addicts".

Update: For international readers, the missing boy I mentioned, a Brandon Crisp, 15, was found dead the other day. Cause of death was a fall from a tree. Police do not suspect foul play. The media is still blaming the game, natch. Must be nice to never have to take responsibility for your own actions and have TV and video games control your life. Most of us are stuck living in the real world.

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