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The Trouble with "Addiction"

Getting Past "Either-Or" (Part Two)

The recommended treatment plan emphasized how complicated the case was in that the online game provided both therapeutic and destructive roles in Mr. A's case. The authors presented an incredibly nuanced view of how the online game can both help and hurt the situation.

The evaluation team recognized that there are both positive and negative aspects to role-playing games on the Internet. The authors made the point to the family that total abstention from games would rob Mr. A of his most meaningful form of peer group interaction as well as the opportunity to develop a more consolidated sense of who he is. At the same time, excessive gaming interfered with face-to-face interactions that teach social skills and time needed to study and work. The authors also had to emphasize that "obsession" with role-playing fantasy games did not mean that it stemmed from clinical OCD nor did it fit a simple addiction model. These games allow for a playful expansion of the self.

The evaluation team stressed to the family that pursuing relationships online was both adaptive and maladaptive. The games were adaptive in the sense that they provided an arena within Mr. A's comfort zone to engage in the developmentally appropriate task of group formation outside of the nuclear family On the other hand, spending 1216 hours a day on the Internet served as a way of avoiding intimacy with peers and the expansion of his identity in the outside world. He was allowed contact and a sense of community without the expectation of genuine intimacy within these relationships.

In summary, then, role-playing games may offer beneficial outlets to adolescents and young adults but also present substantial risks.

As with other activities in life, it starts to become clear that moderation is key. Online games can be therapeutic and enabling when engaged with in moderation, but can become disabling when someone plays too much. While seemingly obvious once laid out, this sensibility is oftentimes missing when the issue is presented by the media or anti-game proponents. A complicated "both-and" issue becomes mangled into a far more simplistic "either-or" / "good vs. evil" issue.

Note: The full article reference is: Allison, A., Wahlde, L., Shockley, T., & Gabbard, G. (2006). The Development of the Self in the Era of the Internet and Role-Playing Fantasy Games. American Journal of Psychiatry, 163, 381 - 385. This is an important article not only for its complex and nuanced perspective on online games, but it shows that there are clinical psychiatrists who also feel that "online gaming addiction" is an overly simplistic diagnostic label.

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