Computer Gaming Addiction
Computer Gaming Addiction
Marc Kern (Addiction Expert, Director of Addiction Alternatives) gives expert video advice on: What is "computer game addiction"?; What causes "internet gaming addiction"?; Why are computer games so addictive? and more...
What is "computer game addiction"?
We have a new tool in our society that no other society has had and that is a way to change the way we feel via a computer or a game or something mechanical like that. It's never existed in history before and now we have it and these addictions that we're all very free about labelling everything addiction but it's just a new technology that has offered us a way of utilizing a machine to change the way we feel inside to a point where we self entrap ourselves.
What causes "internet gaming addiction"?
The causes are really not clear about internet or gaming addictions because, in part, it is a such a new technology. But I think that we're going to find that it essentially holds the same dynamics that cause many other addictions. The key issue is the social environment such as the availability of the monitor, the screen, the access to the internet, or the little handheld games that you can buy and win. You have conflicts and you feel good at the end of a particular evolution in the little game, and this is what causes gaming addiction. Again, the causes of the gaming addictions are that similar to alcohol they're immediate, and predictable. If I'm bored and I reach for a computer addiction or a little game I know I can change my feeling quickly, efficiently, effectively and predictably, right away. I don't have to wait to go and play basketball. I can change the way I feel and my mood state, immediately, through a machine.
Can an electronic game function like a drug?
Yes, I'm a big believer that a video game, a computer, can act identically as a drug. As our brain imagery technology improves we're going to be able to see that the exact same centers of the brain are lit up for a drug, as a video game, as a computer game. Exact same brain regions.
What type of person is at risk of becoming a gaming addict?
Generally speaking, like all addictions, a lot of the risk involved in becoming a gaming addict lies in the familiarity and the endorsement within the family, for example, if you live in a household where there's few things that make you feel good about yourself. It is very easy to envision yourself finding a toy or mechanical system to lean on, to comfort yourself when you are feeling bad about yourself, lonely or feel you don't have anyone to talk to. Young children particularly become bored easily and we can teach them to turn on the television and instantly alleviate their boredom. A big part of gaming addiction is related to the social climate more than anything else and again the availability of gaming activities. Honestly, if you're good at mechanical things and you have a fascination with mechanical things on the internet, a gaming addict may think why not lean into that, as opposed to leaning into some other sort of activity where you have to go outside to get involved in it when the internet is right inside your house.
When should gaming be considered a behavioral addiction?
From my reading I don't know of any specific criteria, where we as professional would say: this is a video addict today or a gaming addict. But, I do believe parents have an important role to play in supervising kids as well as adults in how much time they spend on video games and on the internet. What the child doesn't know or understand is that they're getting reinforced every minute they sit there with that video game, and if that becomes their only mechanism of feeling good, other adaptive ways of coping with life from having fun don't develop. They just go by the wayside, and in actuality, you could raise a child in a home with lots of video stuff, and never encourage them to go outside and on some level you'd be fostering an addict and fostering a reliance on mechanics rather than people to feel good about yourself.
Who is at risk for electronic game addiction?
It's very difficult to define, especially with the current knowledge available of what it really is. Let's conceptualize a gaming addiction or video addiction as being balanced on five fingers. One of these fingers stands for having friendships, one of these fingers stands for going to school, one of these fingers stands for video playing, one of these fingers stands for having other ways of making yourself feel good such as being on a ball team or something like that. During the course of an addiction you're going to see that when someone is addicted, they're standing on one finger, but that one finger doesn't happen suddenly. Addiction is the eating away or the unwinding of other support mechanisms to keep one healthy and functioning. An addict, generally, has only one finger to stand on to make themselves feel good. So what we're talking about with these kids is to keep an eye on their lifestyle balance, keep an eye on their ability to have a variety of different ways to make themselves feel good, a skill set for a variety of different domains, not a singular domain. It's all about balance and keeping that perspective. Nothing's wrong with videos, nothing's wrong with gaming, nothing's wrong with anything we've really talked about here, it's just the centrality of it, the exclusion of it to everything else, that i'm concerned with and everybody else should be concerned with.
What are the common effects of addictive gaming?
When you're preoccupied with a video game or something like that, well you don't have to go and negotiate with the local bully, or the girls, or whatever. You get all your needs met in this mechanical way, and in a way you're stunted in learning things you would normally learn just by being alive, and going to school, and by being out there. It stifles, because these mechanisms do seem to work efficiently, effectively and predictably and it's reinforcing, so you get an illusion that you have the skills to get out there and make it in the real world, when in actuality, you really have forgone them and you may be out of sync with your contemporaries and they have the skills, and you don't and then you're going to withdraw more into video machines, because you're further behind as the weeks and years go on.
Why are computer games so addictive?
The video games, video game producers and the game developers do a very good job setting the stage for the child, the adolescent or the adult to feel a sense of power, dominance or control you've seen in some of these violent games. You also see a lot of war games that create a fantasy world where they are in a position or an emotional position of power and control, and I'm on top of things and things like that and that's what does it. It's instantaneous, you press a button, there's immediate reinforcement to begin to sort of reseek it and reseek it. It's a very intentional process and its not necessarily evilly intended by these developers, but nonetheless it's partial of things of developing a game that will be popular and people would do over and over again.
Are all electronic gaming addicts male?
In terms of the statistics generally speaking males are more involved with these computer games. Impacts there are some companies that have complained that they are not reaching half the market. But the reality is that most compute addicts happened to be males but not of course every one.
Are all electronic games equally addictive?
Absolutely not. It's very much a science in their development, to bring about the addiction. To bring about the excitement and exhilaration, the sound effects, the movement and things like that. There are games that we could call non-addictive, but they aren't selling, so they're not being developed. It's a funny sort of phenomenon. To develop a very successful game, it's always got to be addictive.
What is the treatment for electronic game addiction?
In general the technology is new, therefore the treatment methodology, the treatment programs are very sparse. There is some internet-0based support, but rarely do you find a formal treatment center that specializes in this or a book that's, I mean while there are books, there's really very little written on it. The treatment, again, has not been all that formally constructed either. But I do believe it would be as much about time management and as much about identifying the beliefs and things like that and fostering the sort of adaption of the adolescent or the adult to develop a more balanced lifestyle rather than focusing all the attention on the gaming itself.