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Gaming addiction: myth, medical condition or moral panic?

How much is too much?

Reporter Raphael Rowe on Panorama, investigates the state/reality of gaming addiction in the UK.

A surprising statistic caught the attention of many in the first ten minutes of the show with half of all homes in Britain owning at least one console. How many are in your house?

People queue for hours and hours just to get their hands on the latest release. Games such as Call of Duty and World of Warcraft (Cataclysm launched tonight) have become so popular they have dominated the gaming world. So with over three billion pounds a year being spent on gaming (more than films/music) what is the harm?

Two very clear views were given during the programme. For and against the idea of ‘gaming addiction’.

Case studies provided a clear-cut argument against gaming and its negative effects. One boy followed the motto of “eat, sleep and play games” and had got kicked out of higher education, which subsequently meant he was damaging his relationships with his friends and family. Another study revealed the violent results of parents trying to gain control over an “addicted gamer”, the boy kicking a hole in his sister’s wall and becoming full of rage after his parents disconnected the internet. A screen shot of a game character was used to express this rage if the description wasn’t enough.
The World Health described gaming as a “serious threat” and it was discussed that national recognition was needed. This addiction, unlike others, was suggested as subtle and lacks obvious signs, however, with more funding and research the idea of gaming addiction can be explored and defined.

To remain balanced the programme did discuss the benefits of gaming. Gaming itself is active and can enhance intelligence whilst also acting as beneficial escapism for gamers.

Is it just media hysteria? Moral panic that we always hear about?

Korea was provided as an insight into a country that has dealt with the issue of gaming addiction. Korea has a strong focus on gaming and technology with PC bangs on most corners, providing a night’s entertainment of gaming. Gaming is also highly recognised as a sport in Korea and shows gaming as almost culturally integrated.

Panaroma addressed the number of fatalities due to gaming: twelve. The most horrific case was a baby starved to death due to neglect from parents as they were playing online games. However the parents of the child were recognised to be depressed and with a low IQ. The mother of the child was even described as mentally unstable before gaming so this example seemed very stretched and unreliable. The game they were playing whilst their child was suffering was raising an online virtual baby. This story is not only heartbreaking but in one sense painfully ironic.
Korea has set up camps to address and rehabilitate people who may be addicted to gaming. These camps focus on social aspects such as improving communication and building relationships with family and friends. As these seem to be the worst side effects from gaming. This innovative approach to tackling ‘addicted gamers’ seemed beneficial in the fact that youths were reminded about other alternatives to gaming such as  the outdoors and the importance of relationships. However, the camp seems like a step too late in my opinion.

Overall Panaroma discussed important points to help combat the idea of ‘gaming addiction’. Ideas suggested that more money is needed to fund research which can help establish whether games themselves are addictive  or whether addiction stems from the person. Is it a personality trait? The programme recognised that games do incorporate powerful psychological techniques to create a compulsion loop, but without these there would be no substance to a game.

Many people suggested that games themselves should take responsibility in offering advice not only to the consumer, but in the instance of (vulnerable) children playing games, parents should be provided with guidance on what traits to look for in ‘gaming addiction’.

Perhaps games should also have ratings on addiction levels (formed from research) which can help a buyer decide what game to choose. A rating can be a basis on assessing whether the user of a game is mature and capable enough to handle the game and the level of addiction it provides. In an ideal world age ratings and addictive ratings could possibly combine and work together in harmony to ensure games are used by suitable users.

More funding, more clarity and more responsibility is needed in order to tackle the issue of ‘gaming addiction’. Right I am off to go and chat to all of my friends in Tunisia. Woops, I mean I am going to put on my headset, plug-in my X-box and play Call of Duty.

Related links

BBC Iplayer Panorama: Addicted to gaming

Listen to the James Hazzell show about gaming addiction and self harm

Guardian article on Panorama

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  1. emmaeagle
    January 5, 2011 at 9:05 PM

    Very interesting article considering my son is a fanatic of video games. Thanks for posting.

  2. January 6, 2011 at 6:16 PM

    This is very interesting and has a lot of very valid points. I know of alot of addicted gamers and see it occuring frequently in the younger generation. It is a dangerous hobby that an increasing amount of parents encourage by buying the games for young children especially!!!!

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