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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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Video Game Addiction No Fun

Compulsive video gaming is a modern-day psychological disorder that experts tell WebMD is becoming more and more popular.

The Psychological Factor continued...

Bakker agrees. "The person is trying to change the way they feel by taking something outside of themselves. The [cocaine] addict learns, 'I don't like the way I feel, I take a line of cocaine.' For gamers, it's the fantasy world that makes them feel better."

The lure of a fantasy world is especially pertinent to online role-playing games. These are games in which a player assumes the role of a fictional character and interacts with other players in a virtual world. As Young puts it, an intelligent child who is unpopular at school can "become dominant in the game." The virtual life becomes more appealing than real life.

Where's the Harm?

Too much gaming may seem relatively harmless compared with the dangers of a drug overdose, but Bakker says video game addiction can ruin lives. Children who play four to five hours per day have no time for socializing, doing homework, or playing sports, he says. "That takes away from normal social development. You can get a 21-year-old with the emotional intelligence of a 12-year-old. He's never learned to talk to girls. He's never learned to play a sport."

In older addicts, compulsive gaming can jeopardize jobs or relationships. Howard, a 33-year-old project manager who asked to be identified only by his first name, started playing an online role-playing game about six months ago. He plays for three to four hours almost every day -- more on weekends -- occasionally putting off meals or sleep. His fiancée says he's addicted.

Addiction Warning Signs

Spending a lot of time gaming doesn't necessarily qualify as an addiction. "Eighty percent of the world can play games safely," Bakker says. "The question is: Can you always control your gaming activity?"

According to the Center for On-Line Addiction, warning signs for video game addiction include:

  • Playing for increasing amounts of time
  • Thinking about gaming during other activities
  • Gaming to escape from real-life problems, anxiety, or depression
  • Lying to friends and family to conceal gaming
  • Feeling irritable when trying to cut down on gaming

In addition, video game addicts tend to become isolated, dropping out of their social networks and giving up other hobbies. "It's about somebody who has completely withdrawn from other activities," Young says. "One mother called me when her son dropped out of baseball. He used to love baseball, so that's when she knew there was a problem."

Howard, the project manager, says he still goes out with friends and family, so he doubts he is addicted. "I am not limiting myself to gaming as my only pastime or hobby," he tells WebMD. "If I needed to stop playing, I'm convinced that I could."

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