The image of the drug addict violently attacking anyone who tries to pry his chosen substances away from him has been given a 21st century makeover. As technology becomes increasingly dominant in our society, addiction is no longer just about extracted substances and synthetic chemicals. A whole new wave of addictions is sweeping across society, with everything from mobile phone use to video gaming implicated as potentially habit-forming behaviors. A story in the U.K. newspaper the Daily Star shines a light on the severity of video game addiction, paying particular attention to its impact on the youth of today.
According to Oliver Clarke, who operates a counseling service in the U.K. specializing in addiction, children have attacked their family members for trying to switch off their computer games in the “same way a crack addict would if someone tries to take their drugs.” A former addict is quoted in the Daily Star as saying that in some cases, children have threatened their parents with knives for trying to take away their games. The short article provides some tantalizing glimpses into this violent side of video game addiction, but is frankly lacking any clearly described case reports.
Video Game Addiction
It’s easy to be cynical when confronted with a newspaper story addressing something like video game addiction. It seems that almost anything has the word “addiction” tacked onto the end for a cheap headline, but there are inherent similarities between those who depend on computer games and people who take drugs of abuse. For example, a video game addict will neglect work or school responsibilities in favor of playing his favorite game, and is unable to limit the amount of time he engages in the activity. At the more extreme end of the behavior spectrum, as reported in the Daily Star, video game addicts can become violent or irritated when somebody disrupts their gaming. Video game addiction is very real, despite being an emerging phenomenon with limited evidence at present. Psychology Today presents several case reports and pieces of research on the topic, with one case from Ohio coming after a 17-year-old boy’s mother tried to take away his copy of Halo 3. He shot both of his parents and his mother died from her injuries. An even more shocking story comes from New Mexico in 2011, in which a mother allowed her 3 year old daughter to die of malnutrition because she was too busy playing World of Warcraft. Something beyond ordinary enjoyment is clearly driving these behaviors.
Are You or Your Child Addicted to Video Games?
According to research, 0.5 percent of gamers have symptoms of excessive gaming. Studies have been able to reveal some of the risk factors associated with problem gaming, and being a male adolescent appears to be a major one. Adolescents are broadly more susceptible to addiction as a whole, and although female gaming is becoming more common, it is still more common in males. Additionally, emotionally vulnerable teens, those with trouble socializing and impulsive behaviors are known to be at greater risk of video game addiction. One of the key factors also appears to be the type of games that are played and the motivation for playing them. Role-playing games (RPGs, and massively multiplayer online versions like World of Warcraft) are thought to be more addictive because of factors such as the regular rewards associated with “leveling-up” (improving a character’s attributes). Many addicted gamers are attracted to the “alternative life” element of games, giving them the ability to step out of their own skin and take on the role of a savior or hero of a virtual world. The signs and symptoms of video game addiction are in many ways similar to those for other drug or process addictions. Problematic gamers will use game-play to “solve” other problems in their life, will neglect responsibilities and chores in order to play games, will constantly think about gaming when they aren’t playing and might lie about the amount of time they spend playing. Older gamers may spend rent money or other essential funds to get the latest game.
What to Do About It
If you think you, your child or a loved one is struggling with video game addiction, there are steps you can take. It’s unlikely a parental limit on game-playing time will have much of an impact, but focusing on the underlying psychological issues may be useful. For example, problem gamers often have low-self esteem and trouble socializing. Help your gaming addict improve his social skills, think more positively about himself and teach him stress-management techniques. However, if the problem is serious, it’s worth considering professional psychological support.