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In discussing addiction, some people may feel that physical addiction is the core issue with alcohol or cocaine addiction and that it makes no sense to talk about addiction with regards to MMORPGs - a non-physical "addiction". They point out that online gaming addiction is not a physical substance that alters your brain chemistry the way heroine or cocaine does. In "The Heart of Addiction", author Lance Dodes provides several lines of evidence why the physical side of addiction is not the core issue with any addiction:

- There are other well-recognized non-physical addictions such as gambling or shopping. (pg. 70)
- Many people with addictions routinely switch between physical substances of different pharmacological type (ie. alcohol and cocaine). If the physical dependence on a particular substance were central to the addiction, then switching between drugs that cannot substitute for each other would is impossible. (pg. 71)
- There are people with addictions who only use one drug but never get physically addicted to it. This happens in people who binge drink. The binge drinking doesn't have time to create tolerance and physical dependence, but the episodes are very self-destructive. (pg. 71)
- There are individuals who addictively use drugs incapable of producing physical addiction, such as LSD or marijuana. (pg. 72)
- Relapses after detoxification are frequent. If physical addiction were the real problem, then the addiction should be "cured" after detoxification. This is not the case. (pg. 72)
- Historical cases of war veterans in Vietnam who were addicted to heroine but had a 95% remission rate when returning to the US. This remission rate is unheard of with narcotic addicts treated in the US. This case demonstrates that there is something else at work apart from the physical nature of addiction. (pg. 73)

For Dodes, the real addiction is a psychological one and not a physical one. He argues that "physical addiction is neither necessary to nor sufficient for an addiction" (pg. 75). The central point that Dodes tries to make in his book is that helplessness drives and precedes every addictive act, and that the "addictive behavior functions to repair this underlying feeling of helplessness. It is able to do this because taking the addictive action creates a sense of being empowered, or regaining control over one's emotional experience and one's life" (pg. 4). Clearly, physical addiction is a very real issue, but as the historical case of the Vietnam veterans showed, pure physical addiction is much easier to treat when compared with the psychological addiction of narcotic addicts.

Dodes argues that it is almost pointless to claim that objects are addictive because "it is the person [original emphasis] who endows the object or activity with the property of being addictive" (pg. 117). But perhaps a better way to think of it is that there are two sides to addiction - underlying frustrations or motivations that push you, and objects or activities with the matching profile that pull you in. In other words, there are aspects of MMORPGs that are inherently compelling and encourage players to invest a lot of time and get attached to their characters, but the degree of the attraction/addiction depends on how many external factors are pushing the player into this particular outlet. These will be referred to as "Attraction" and "Motivation" factors respectively from this point on.

Copyright, October 2002, by Nicholas Yee

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