On Therapy and Dependency
Is the Gaming Problem just a Symptom?
Some of the narratives we've seen show how the gaming problem emerges as a coping mechanism in the midst of existing social or emotional stresses. For example, on the previous page, we saw the young woman who used the game to avoid the reality of her parents' divorce. Or consider the following example.
I'm having trouble with school - not because of grades, but because of my parents. They're pressuring me to do well in school because of the high tuition. They're having trouble affording it, and constantly tell me that it's up to me to do well so we might get more financial aid next year. I get it. I understand the situation we're in. But they're not helping me by constantly telling me the same thing over and over again. In fact, they're making it worse. I'm put under stress to try and do well, but it's not working. Then one day I got an e-mail invite to be a Closed Beta Tester for the MMO 'Secret of the Solstice.' I was intrigued by the whole 'Closed Beta' thing before - I'd never heard of it. I was a 'newbie' to the whole MMO scene. Almost instantly I downloaded the client, and started playing. I was hooked. I was in a world where I could be anyone. I didn't have to work to please someone, I didn't have certain standards to meet. I could just be who I wanted to be, doing what I wanted to do. I ended up playing every night, and on weekends for hours. [Secret of the Solstice, F, 14]
It's easy to take the most overt symptom and identify it as the primary problem, but this would lead us to the overly simplistic solution that taking away the game solves the problem. And as many Marriage and Family Therapists know, the parents who bring their child in for a problem may be unknowingly playing a part in sustaining that very problem themselves. Behavioral dependencies are seldom simple problems; more often than not, they involve underlying problems sustained by the social dynamics surrounding an individual.
Of course, this isn't to say that gaming problems only emerge when there are existing psychological stressors, but the research in this area does suggest that psychological stressors are a strong indicator of whether someone develops a gaming problem or not. Nevertheless, game mechanics that reinforce particular game-play motivations (e.g., reward cycles) are definitely a part of this process too.
The narratives we've seen also suggest other ways in which the gaming intersects with therapy. It is possible that therapists could actively leverage the online environment as exercises for certain social anxieties or teamwork skills. This is something that seems like it could fit as part of a cognitive behavioral therapy approach. More importantly, the narratives show that getting gamers to talk about their motivations for playing can help identify underlying causes of problematic gaming. Knowing how the gamer is using the online environment as a coping mechanism might help shed light on the larger problems an individual is dealing with.
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