The Trouble with "Addiction"
Are MMOs an ingested substance?
When people use the term "online gaming addiction", they are encouraging others to think of online games as a kind of physical substance. This is a rhetorical move that asks the audience to ignore everything about MMOs except that they are like alcohol or cocaine. The problem is that online games aren't simply liquids or powders that are ingested. Online games are also not simple behaviors like gambling.
Online games are social worlds with their own geography, culture, dialect, and social rules. They are places where protests and vigils are held. They are places where slang and etiquette rules emerge. They are places where people meet and then get married face-to-face. And to the extent that they are social places, asking whether someone can be addicted to an MMO is like asking whether someone can be addicted to the United States. To see how analogies with cocaine and alcohol fail with social places, we can paraphrase a survey item for diagnosing Internet Addiction Disorder: "Would you become irritated and frustrated if you were unable to live in the US?"
Up till now, the label "addiction" has never been applied to a social place. It has been applied to substances and simple behaviors such as gambling. When the media and others use the term "online gaming addiction", they are asking us to ignore all the ways in which an online game is different from an ingested substance. It is this confusion that leads to the generation of simplistic and double-loaded questions that further muddles the issue:
- Are online games detrimental, addiction-feeding?
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