I have a special interest in this field, not only as part of my work in general but as an avid gamer myself. With the exception of World of Warcraft (more on that later), I’ve pretty much run the gamut of gaming, from the Atari’s Pacman and Space Invader games back in the 70s right through the Legend of Zelda suite to the current rash of mobile and Facebook time-sucks (I use that term fondly) such as Bubble Witch Saga 2 and Candy Crush.
And I can truthfully say that Level 500 of CCS sucks:
Recently a group of researchers tackled the controversial fact that the DSM-V includes non-substance addiction as a psychiatric diagnosis, in the journal Addiction. This is a very welcome paper, not least because the DSM-V has pretty much sidelined the concept of general Internet addiction in favour of the specific behaviours conducted over the Internet. This has wide implications for various online addictions, including gambling, sex and virtual reality environments.
I found the recent showing in the UK of Web Junkie riveting – of course I was aware of the gaming boot camps in China, but watching the participants discuss their use of nappies to ensure they didn’t miss a minute of the game for their hygienic needs really brought home the huge problems gaming can cause. These boot camps cost twice the parent’s average monthly income to attend – it is apparently never voluntary and often involves subterfuge to get the young people there in the first place. Indeed, when a group of the boot camp members “escaped”, they headed straight for the nearest Internet Cafe to play for four hours before being “caught”. Many cite combating loneliness as one of the main attractions.
I took one look at the game World of Warcraft when at a friend’s house, and vowed never to touch it. The appeal of those beautiful graphics, the team-playing, the role-playing, the social side of like-minded people banding together to defeat obstacles and missions… what’s not to like if you are an avid gamer? My gaming colleagues and friends (you know who you are) have tempted me over the years – but WoW is a time-suck too far for someone who already has mild(ish) issues with online gaming. I have almost (almost) sacrosanct boundaries in place for my gaming habit, playing only three in any one period (currently Bubble Witch Saga 2, Diamond Diggers Saga and the epic Tribez and Castlez, since you didn’t ask). These boundaries are necessary for reasons of both time (addiction/avoidance) and finance (in-gaming purchases to facilitate the addiction) – my time on Candy Crush Saga and Kitchen Scramble meant I eventually had to block them from all my devices (though if you’re ever stuck on a level, give me a shout 😉 )
There are complicated reasons for all addictions, and those within online gaming should not be ignored. My current work is focusing on the innocent use of gaming to combat other addictions, not least gambling -after all, it’s only virtual money, right? Wrong – my anecdotal research with gamblers show that online freemium play models are triggers, and a short step to being back in the offline casino or similar. The DSM-V inclusion is welcome if only to bring the topic to the fore and allow academics to reach conclusions around potential treatment.
But let’s not forget the inclusion of the excellent concept of gamification in therapy! For further reading, I’ll refer you to my colleague Mike at GamerTherapist.com – the guru of gamer affirmative psychotherapy. Check out his blog to understand the positives gaming can bring to life experience – and happy (boundaried) gaming!