FAQ: The Good and The Bad

I was recently interviewed over email over some issues centered on game-play and game addiction. I decided to include them here as they answer some of the questions I am most frequently asked about.

What evidence suggests video games and online role playing games are addictive?

60% of MMORPG players surveyed have played the game for 10 hours continuously or more.
44% of MMORPG players surveyed would consider themselves to be addicted to the game they are playing.
13% of MMORPG players surveyed have tried to quit the game but failed.

About 5% of MMORPG players surveyed strongly agree that playing the game:
- makes them feel guilty
- has caused them financial or relationship problems in real-life
- they become irritable and angry if they canít play the game.
- has caused their social life to suffer.
- arguments have arisen at home because of their game-play

Are there positive factors to playing these games?

Yes there are, and I wish people focused on these more often:

Learning Leadership Skills
Learning Relationship / Communication Skills
Helping Teenagers Deal with Identity / Gender Issues
Helping Individuals Gain Confidence and Self-Esteem
How Playing Helps Romantic Couples who Play Together
How Playing Helps Parents and Children who Play Together:
Using MMORPGs as Therapeutic Spaces
Educational Uses of MMORPGs

What are the primary negative factors?

MMORPGs are designed to encourage time investment and are more addictive than other less complex games. For a more detailed analysis, read through The Skinner Box.

If they are addictive, why is that so?

One theory of addiction is that people become dependent on a substance/action because it ultimately empowers them as it destroys them. For example, individuals who feel they have no control over their lives might binge eat or shop because in those moments, they can at least feel they are in control. One reason why MMORPGs might be so addictive is because they help individuals deal with a host of very common issues they might be dealing in real-life. For example:

- People with low self-esteem can become a knight or a princess and feel they can achieve something in this virtual world.
- People with poor self-image can become as beautiful and agile as they want.
- People who feel they have no control over anything in life can exert control in a virtual environment where they have super-human abilities.
- People who feel unneeded or under-valued can make a difference.
- People who have trouble sustaining relationships in real life find it easier to do so in the simplified world of MMORPGs.
- People who are stressed and burdened with problems in real life can use MMORPGs as an escape.

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What are indicators of possible addiction?

A combination of:

- Anxiety, frustration and anger when unable to play.
- Feelings of guilt when playing.
- Continuing to play even when youíre not having fun.
- Peers or family have suggested that game-play has become a problem.
- A deterioration in social life.
- Emergence of financial or relationship problems.

How much time is reasonable for a youth to spend playing video games?

MMORPG players play on average about 22 hours per week. This, on the other hand, is less than the average number of hours that a typical American watches TV per week which is 27 hours. The important thing is to make sure you can set clear time schedules ("Iím only going to play for 2 hours") and to be able to log off when that time is up. I think around 22 hours is a reasonable amount per week. Of course, if a teenager is out of school, then it is ok to play more since they have more time as long as they can moderate their game-play and arenít playing the whole day away.

Individually, how can a possible video game addiction be resolved?

Different players play the game for different reasons, and this is actually a fairly complicated issue. Some players are driven by the achievement cycle, while others get tied up with their online social network. Others play to escape real life, and yet others play to become the heroes they canít be in real life. On an individual basis, the key to resolving addiction is to identify what is motivating the individual to play and address that issue specifically. Of course, this should be done with the help of a counselor who is familiar with online games or non-substance addictions.

How would you recommend solving the problem on a nationwide basis?

Iím not sure if thereís an actual problem per se. Driving automobiles causes far more deaths on a statistical perspective than playing video games. An addiction is not something a substance/game causes as much as it is vulnerability in the individual that has gone out of control. As such, destroying all games wonít suddenly cure all people of their self-image and confidence issues. And in fact, thereís a lot of good that is coming out of these games as well. To me, the problem isnít the games. The problem is people who blame the game instead of really helping the person when he/she becomes addicted.

What can others do to help eliminate this problem?

As with all other indulgences in life, moderation is the key. I would rather see all these people campaigning against video games to campaign against alcohol because alcohol, by far, causes more deaths and problems in our society than video games Ö