Manipulation and Compulsion: What is True Video Game Addiction?
I would like to start this post out by really stating what addiction is, and what it is not. Just doing a basic Google “Define:addiction” search, you get:
The fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity.
This does not really help to define addiction to the level that I would like to talk about it. The layperson will (in many cases) enjoy doing something, and put off or procrastinate other activities because they are enjoying that activity, and call it addiction.
“Oh man, this game is so fun that it’s addictive!”
“Geez, I’m so addicted to this game; I stayed up until, like, 2 last night!”
These are colloquialisms, and are not actually addiction. Something being enjoyable and having a huge draw does not make it addictive.
Here is a short video explaining what I mean. This is colloquial addiction as I would call it. It is possible to have a life and play the game simultaneously, and it is also possible to go overboard with playing the game; without it being an addiction. I would not call this documentary an addiction, I would call it someone who decided to change the direction of their life. The life still involves gaming (making a movie about it), and the video also contains a section where the film maker logged back into game. That’s a key point to note. When was the last time you heard of a drug addict saying “oh, I just had a quick hit for old times’ sake” and then being perfectly fine afterwards? That’s not how real addiction works.
Clinical addiction is much deeper and more venomous. Addiction produces stories like this:
A New Mexico woman has been sentenced to 25 years in prison for the death of her young daughter, who withered away from malnutrition and dehydration while the mother spent hours chatting and playing World of Warcraft online.
Imagine being drawn to playing a game in such a way that you would allow yourself or your child to not eat for days or weeks. That is what is I mean by “clinical addiction.” There is no control at all; all that exists is the desire for the focus of the addiction (i.e. drugs, alcohol, a specific activity). If you end up in a homeless shelter because of playing too many video games, it’s likely that you’ve crossed the line from “playing a lot” to “addiction.”
To get into more detail, clinical addiction is: (emphasis mine)
Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.
Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.
Please see the full definition of the American Society of Addiction Medicine to read in full about how they define addiction. It is much more comprehensive than my anecdotal examples that try to explain what addiction is. A good way to say it is there is a difference between “overuse”, “compulsion”, and addiction; where “compulsion” is the fuzzy line where it can become a behavioral addiction.
So now that I have said that I am talking about clinical addiction, and not colloquial addiction, the question becomes:
Does Video Game Addiction Really Exist?
There is no consensus on this in a professional sense, but I believe it does exist. There is no statistical evidence, but anecdotal evidence abounds.
Others have talked about it before, and in video format. The video is ~16 minutes or so, but it is well worth your time. There are actual PhDs and video game big wigs talking about video game addiction (pretty good from a gamer site huh?).
The biggest argument that video game addiction can/does exist is the comparison to gambling addiction; down to the lights and bells and whistles to reward compulsions. If gambling addiction is considered a serious problem, should video game addiction be considered a serious problem as well? I would say “yes,” but with the same caveat that gambling has: gambling is still fine and healthy for a majority of the population; it is when gambling becomes an “addiction” that it is a problem. Same with video games.
What can be done?
I see three different realms that can focus on video game addiction for a positive outcome.
1) Video Game Designers
Video game designers can subsribe to the Google maxim of “Do No Evil” in their game design to limit the affects of addiction. This comes down to the idea of using “carrot on a stick” mechanics for compulsion satisfaction rather than compulsion manipulation. It is a very fine line, but it is the difference between the way of the Jedi or the way of the Sith, respectively.
Developers: Ask why you’re making something a certain way.
2) Enthusiast Journalists and the Community
Information has to come from somewhere, so it’s up to the community to be open and honest about issues. Educate the community, be aware of how things can go wrong. Be proactive with education and messaging rather than reactive.
It is up to you (as a gamer) to be educated and aware of how video games affect you. Just like any other addict, it is a personal choice whether to be wrapped in addiction or not. Some of it might be wired into our brain, but not always. To quote the Junglist from the video I posted above, “The ability to be exploited is built into our brains,” so we must be aware of that and not fall into the traps.
You as an individual are the only one who is responsible (in the end) for whether gaming is a fun pastime, or an addiction. Let’s keep it fun!
If gambling can be an addiction, why can’t video games? Be proactive in preventing video game addiction!
Ding! You’ve leveled up! Please see your local librarian for training.
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