The Situationist

Archive for April 9th, 2009

Are Video Games Addictive?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 9, 2009

Laura Parker of GameSpot Australia has an interesting piece on whether video games can become addictions.  We excerpt her piece below.

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An addict is defined by his or her psychological compulsion to carry out certain behaviours or consume certain substances that are often detrimental to his or her health or well-being. Although this repeated consumption often leads to other problems in areas of social and mental health, an addict cannot stop him- or herself from recurrent use. The hallmarks of addiction are often an increase in time spent in the consumption of these behaviours or substances at the expense of other activities; recurrent failed attempts to stop; and recurrent preoccupation and intense psychological urges or desires that are difficult to control.

Video game addiction is still a newcomer to the field of psychology and is not yet medically recognised as a proper addiction due to the lack of research conducted into its causes and effects. So, while it’s common for clinics to specialise in the treatment of drug, alcohol, gambling, sex, and other addictions, it is not common for clinics to specialise in the treatment of video game addiction. However, during the last five years, countries like China, South Korea, the Netherlands, Canada, and the USA have begun to recognise the health threat posed by video game addiction and have opened clinics that deal specifically with the problem.

The argument for excessive video game play as a real psychological addiction is that a person gains psychological reinforcement from playing, and excelling at, a game. By becoming an expert at a game, a person releases a neurochemical known as dopamine in his or her brain, whose function is to make us feel good. This is a natural response humans have to good experiences, such as eating favourite foods, listening to music, or watching a good movie. For it to be a psychological addiction to video games, it rests on how much dopamine is released in those who are believed to be video game addicts, in comparison to the levels released during other positive lifestyle activities.

Symptoms of video game addicts are varied–they can range from social isolation, poor social skills, and erratic mood swings to neglect of responsibilities such as health, regular sleeping, hygiene, financial commitments, and work and study responsibilities.

A new addiction

Now that we know what addiction is, we need to see if video game addiction fits the pattern of a medically recognised addiction. In July 2006, the world’s first video game addiction clinic opened in Amsterdam. The event sparked the curiosity of the global press–it was the first time video game addiction was acknowledged, and the subsequent coverage pointed to the increasing popularity of video games and the people who just couldn’t stop playing them. Almost all media reports at the time and subsequent reports dealing with video game addiction pointed to the few instances of video-game-related deaths as examples of addiction, wishing to demonstrate the debilitating effect of video games. But few reports actually defined addiction or indicated that not all video game addicts eventually kill themselves, or others, through excessive playing.

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Studies into video game addiction are scarce. However, the increased recognition of the issue amongst the scientific community means more and more researchers are beginning to look seriously at video game addiction. Daniel Loton, an ethics officer and former psychology honours student from Victoria University, used his thesis to explore the relationship between social capacity and problematic video gameplay to try to determine the cause of video game addiction. Loton used the Social Skills Inventory (SSI), a broad scale that measures basic social skills, to survey 560 male and 61 female gamers with an average age of 23.4 years. His survey found a very small connection between social capacity (that is, social skills and self-esteem) and video game playing. Given the past research on the topic, Loton said his study yielded surprising results.

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For the rest of the piece, click here. For related Situationist posts, see “Resident Evil 5 and Racism in Video Games,” “Encourage Your Daughters To Play Violent Video Games?,” “The Situation of First-Person Shooters,” “Suing the Suer: Video Game Company Sues Jack Thompson,” and Michael McCann’s “The Intersection between Tort Law and Social Psychology in Video Games.”

Posted in Entertainment, Social Psychology | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

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