Let’s cut to the chase immediately – video game addiction is a real addiction, just as Internet gambling is a real addiction; just as an addiction to Internet pornography is a real addiction.
The question that needs to be explored more thoroughly however is: is video game addiction the kind of serious problem that the media would have us believe?
Or, do the media, for the sake of sensationalism, take isolated instances of computer addiction and create a frenzy of concern that is unwarranted and not supported by the facts?
The media and the “facts” – an oxymoron if there ever was one!
This past week, in a small city just outside of Toronto, Canada (where I live), a fifteen year old boy, Brandon Crisp, disappeared following an argument with his parents over his access to his Xbox, and the video game Call of Duty 4.
According to the boy’s father, Brandon was exhibiting what some psychiatrists consider classical signs of addiction, since he reportedly began to skip school, stay up all night, and steal money.
This tragic case is still unresolved, and the boy remains missing as of today’s date – October 25, 2008, despite a massive effort by both Police, and hundreds of volunteer searchers.
According to the CBC (one of Canada’s national television networks), Microsoft (the developers of the Xbox), has now become involved, and has added $25,000 to an existing reward pool of $25,000 bringing the total to $50,000. In addition, reports indicate that Microsoft is cooperating with authorities in providing information regarding the 200 or so Xbox gaming site contacts, that may be relevant to the investigation of Brandon’s disappearance.
I have a problem however, with how this tragic story has been reported in the mainstream media. Uninformed news reporters, and editors (both print and T.V.), who have little experience with the Internet or technology, except perhaps as casual users, have used this story as an illustration of how video game addiction is a major hidden problem.
For example, according to news report in the Toronto Star, Bruce Ballon, a psychiatrist with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, is quoted as stating “We’ve been receiving at least a couple of calls a week asking, ‘How do you deal with Internet addiction?’ Ballon goes on to say “(Society is) just starting to realize – oh my God, it’s so huge. This is why people have been afraid to open the doors.”
Sorry Dr. Ballon, but there seems to be a major disconnect here. Consider, “a couple of calls a week” versus “oh my God, it’s so huge.” I’m not a mathematician, but I do know this, the number “two” is hardly “huge”.
A more balance reporting of the facts surrounding Internet, computer, or gaming addiction, would have included those of Dr. Jerald J. Block, M.D., who, in an editorial published on The American Journal of Psychiatry website earlier this year, made the point that 86 per cent of “internet addicts”, including gaming addicts, also have some other form of a mental disorder.
Dr. Block goes on to say, in his editorial, that Internet addiction is an “increasingly commonplace compulsive-impulsive disorder” and should be included in psychiatry’s official guidebook of mental disorders, the DSM-V.
For those who are unfamiliar with DSM-V, it is an American psychiatric handbook that lists categories of mental disorders, and the criteria for diagnosing them.
Despite its controversy in certain quarters; controversy, in part, caused by a perceived need to add new mental illnesses, it is used worldwide by clinicians and researchers as well as insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and policy makers.
There is no doubt that mental illness is a complex and mystifying subject that includes a multitude of variables. My real problem is with those people (including the mainstream media), who use, or more properly misuse, isolated examples of tragic events to achieve their own ends. In this case, to generate additional readership in the guise of providing a public service i.e. computer gaming addiction is a major hidden problem.
We now live in a highly reactive society; one in which there are individuals, groups, and organizations waiting in the wings ready to pounce with great gusto on established, or emerging technologies.
If you think that statement is excessive, then consider this published comment (just one of many like it), I came upon recently, regarding computer gaming:
“I have a direct experience with the subject and can tell you that with this opponent you can not win. Online gaming industry is investing a lot of money to find the most addictive ways to hook their customers as addiction = profit.
It is even more problematic then other addictions as it is not recognized as a vice by the general public. Parents easily succumb to requests to allow it and peer pressure is enormous as it is not controlled in any way. I see only radical solutions to this, either tax it so it becomes uneconomical as a source of entertainment or ban it all together”.
Computers/connected devices will always be the target of modern day Luddites – a term used to describe those opposed, in some form, to technological progress and technological change.
Despite the possible negative psychological effects of video game playing for those who already struggle with some form of a mental disorder, overall there are many positive effects associated with video game playing, but that’s an issue for a future article.
If you’re a concerned parent, how do you determine if your child qualifies as an Internet, or computer gaming addict?
It is generally agreed that exhibiting any of the following symptoms while online, or offline; excessive gaming, sexual preoccupations or excessive email or text messaging, meets at least one, or more, of the criteria needed to establish Internet or gaming addiction.
However, the following symptoms must also be in evidence:
Withdrawal – including feelings of anger, tension, and/or depression when the computer is inaccessible.
Tolerance – including the need for better computer equipment, more software, or more hours of use.
Negative Repercussions – including arguments, lying, poor achievement, social isolation, and fatigue.
For another view on this topic check out “Is Your Inner Child Addicted to the Internet” by my good buddy, TechPaul.