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Gaming Addiction

MUDs, MMORPGs and the $14,000 cure. Here I discuss (and get somewhat personal) the concept of addiction and how it relates to gaming.

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I'll preface this by saying that I do have an addictive personality, so this is something I take very seriously. In the past I've struggled with alcohol, mostly, but have gotten that completely under control thanks to the support I receive from my family. However, I'm not going to preach. Having said that, for those who played (or still play) MUDs, get ready for some nostalgia.

When I was younger (we're talking 11, 12 years old) I played a lot of MUDs and continued to do so well into college. To be fair, I played a lot of two MUDs: Apocalypse IV (which graduated to Apocalypse V and is now known as Apocalypse Forever and located at telnet://apocmud.org:4000) and Enertopia.

Apocalypse you may have heard of; Enertopia, probably not. In fact, I just logged on Apocalypse for the first time in quite a while and, to my surprise, there are 6 people online! Granted, this is considerably less than in its heyday when 100 unique people would be logged on at any given time. I would spend hours upon hours in front of the computer leveling my characters, trying to pop equipment, bartering and what-have-you.



I had no internet connection aside from the multiple free accounts provided by my local library, which only provided accounts that timed out after two hours, resetting after 24 hours. Not just two hours per day; two hours every 24 hours. It was brutal.

Eventually I found another provider that offered unlimited time (thanks, friend's brother's friend I didn't know). I would spent eight hours a day playing one or more MUDs, mostly using the zMud client (couldn't stand TinTin++) and playing multiple characters simultaneously.

I still have the character files with all my triggers and aliases and variables, not to mention a (very outdated, surely) equipment database. Ah, the good ol' days.

But, like all things, that too passed. That, and I honestly wasn't very good.

Text-based MUDs gave way to the MMORPG (massively-multiplayer online role-playing game; a mouthful, I know), but the chance for addiction never ebbed. In fact, it seems to have grown considerably and branched out beyond adolescents and college kids.

The October 2009 issue of the American Journal of Family Therapy contains an article by Dr. Kimberly Young, the director of the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery, called Understanding Online Gaming Addiction and Treatment for Adolescents.

There's not a whole lot to say about it, really. It's a good resource for what to watch for if you're concerned someone may be addicted to gaming (it's really no different than the tell-tale signs of alcoholism: preoccupation, losing interest in other things, lying about/hiding usage, becoming defensive or angry when confronted, and withdraw, both social and psychological). Abstract:


Massive Muti-user Online Role-Playing Games or MMORPGs as they are often called are one of the fastest growing forms of Internet addiction, especially among children and teenagers. Like an addiction to alcohol or drugs, gamers show several classic signs of addiction (Grusser, Thalemann, and Griffiths, 2007).

They become preoccupied with gaming, lie about their gaming use, lose interest in other activities just to game, withdrawal from family and friends to game, and use gaming as a means of psychological escape (Leung, 2004).

This paper explores the emergence of online gaming addiction and its impact on individuals and families. This paper reviews the nature of online games and what makes them addictive among some players.

As computers are relied upon with greater frequency, detecting and diagnosing online gaming addiction may be difficult for clinicians, especially as symptoms of a possible problem may be masked by legitimate use of the Internet. This paper reviews the warning signs of online gaming addiction, adolescent issues involved in gaming addiction, especially as the industry targets youth, and parenting and therapy considerations for this emergent client population.



When you think if MMORPG, what do you think of? Yep, you got it. World of Warcraft. South Park did a great episode on WoW in which the boys become addicted to the game. It's worth watching if you haven't seen it.

Their addiction is a noble one, however: they dedicate all day, every day to beefing up their characters in order to kill a superpowered character who gets his kicks by pkilling lower-level players. In the end, they decide to just play the game and not take it so seriously.

Some people never reach that conclusion.

In fact, there's an entire chapter devoted to "information overload" in Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser. On page 187 they write the following:


Some recent headlines from around the world:
  • "A South Korean games addict died after playing nonstop for 86 hours."
  • "An overweight 26-year-old man from north-eastern China has died after a ceaseless gaming session over the Lunar New Year holiday."
  • "A 30-year-old man has died in the south China province of Guangzhou after apparently playing an online game continuously for three days."

A 2007 poll found that 8.5 percent of youth gamers in the United States could be classified as pathologically addicted to playing video games. In an online British study that same year, 12 percent of gamers demonstrated addictive behavior. In summer 2006, the first inpatient clinic for computer game addicts in Europe opened its doors; Korea, meanwhile, already has more than forty game-addiction counseling agencies registering thousands of cases per year.

While the generalized title is "internet addiction" it's clear the focus is on MMORPGs, as, regardless of how addicting Stumbling may be, there's only so many times you can run across Charlie the Unicorn.

Addiction really is nothing to be scoffed at. Thinking something is innoculous or "just a game" is a dangerous thing, too. People can become addicted to nearly anything and adolescents are particularly prone to this sort of behavior as it can provide them without an outlet they, perhaps, can't find anywhere else. In WoW, for instance, the unpopular teenager is a well-known and respected guild leader.

Still, I'm not entirely sure you need to pay $14,000 to kick the habit.

Citations:

Palfrey, J., & Gasser, U. (2008). Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives. Basic Books.

Young, K. (2009). Understanding Online Gaming Addiction and Treatment Issues for Adolescents. American Journal of Family Therapy, 37(5), 355-372. doi: 10.1080/01926180902942191.

 (Originally posted at Teach Video Games on September 28, 2009.)

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