First, let me say I’m not entirely sure that video games are an addiction. But I’m not ruling it out. If gambling can be an addiction, then perhaps video games can be too.
Yesterday, my husband sent me this article about how video games are designed to get people addicted. It’s a little reminiscent of the tobacco companies’ knowing that their products were addictive. The article notes that game designers often exploit the brains natural motivation and reward receptors, so that gamers are compelled to keep playing to get to the next reward. I wrote about reward and motivation myself without a single nod to the fact that the tweaking Blizzard does might, in fact, be intended to “get people addicted” to the game. Instead, I applied the in-game reward system to my real life, noting that I like small rewards along the way, so that, in order to get myself through an arduous task, I should reward myself with a little something along the way. Progress tracking was another important motivator that I could apply to real life.
My ability to step outside the game, to recognize what it is doing to my brain, probably separates me from the people who play games for days on end, even to the point of death, for a virtual reward. These people have lost touch with reality. And the question is, did the video games cause that or was there something in their psyches already that led to this disconnect. Would those same people have been driven to another addiction or problematic behavior if video games had not been available? In fact, this Time article notes that the problem of video game addiction among teens in South Korea may be due in part to long work hours and pressure put on kids to go to “cram schools” at night. Video games provide a way to relieve stress. It could have been drugs or alcohol. Some people just take that stress relief too far.
MMO’s like World of Warcraft do encourage long hours of play. Running a dungeon can take at least a couple of hours. A raid, even longer. I remember the first time I picked up a dungeon guide and the estimate it gave for one dungeon was 2 and a half hours. Whoa, I thought, I don’t have that kind of time. Well, things have changed a bit in the game and dungeons can now be run in a half-hour, though raids still take many hours, often spread out over multiple days to complete. But at least you can play for an hour or so and then save your raid and try again another day instead of having to do it all at once. Still, most people I know don’t hop on for an hour and leave. Most log on at the end of the work day and are on until bedtime. That can be a more than four or five hours. If you do that every day, is that an addiction?
Look at it this way. If someone has a couple of drinks every day, they aren’t necessarily alcoholics. I’m no psychologist, but I know that alcoholics can’t stop at one drink, and they often can’t go a day without a drink (even if they tell themselves they won’t drink). I once thought I was an alcoholic in college, so I vowed that I wouldn’t drink over winter break. I was seriously worried that I’d want to drink. As it turned out, I didn’t want to drink and I went around to holiday parties drinking Dr. Pepper, and felt fine about it. So, if you can’t go for a day without playing or can’t stop playing after an hour because you need to go eat dinner, you might have a real problem. And actually, better video games than alcohol or drugs. At least you’re less likely to harm others or yourself (despite some scary news stories, it really is rare).
For the record, I haven’t played WoW in three days. Real life has gotten in the way. As it should.