Video games can become an addiction just like alcohol, gambling, and drugs. I’ve seen it happen firsthand. In high school I had a good friend named Ben. He was a big computer gamer and so was I at the time, but around the middle of our senior year Ben really started to change. For the period of about a week Ben actually disappeared from school completely. When he finally returned, he told me that he’d been playing the online game EverQuest the whole time. His eyes were bloodshot and he admitted to me that he’d hardly slept during that entire week. Ben’s week-long Everquest binge was only the beginning, however. From that point on I hardly saw him anymore.
That was back in 1999, and at the time no one was talking about video game addictions. In today’s world, with ever more complex and engaging video games, game addiction is becoming an epidemic. Particularly problematic is the newest genre of games known as MMORPG (massive multiplayer online games).
How much of a problem is game addiction?
Gamers with no self control have more to fear than just a weakened social life. According to video-game-addiction.org, excessive game playing can cause carpal tunnel syndrome, migraines, sleep disorders such as insomnia and narcolepsy, chronic back pain, and more problems. There is even 1 documented case of a game addict dying while playing an online game marathon. A BBC News story in 2005 detailed the case of the 28-year-old computer gamer who died after playing the game Star Craft for several days straight, only taking breaks to use the bathroom. Police officials said the man had died from exhaustion.
So when does gaming cross the line between fun and addiction?
Signs of video game addiction
Video-game-addiction.org gives the following warning signs of game addiction.
- You feel really happy when you’re online or when you’re playing games, but as soon as you have to stop, you get angry or upset.
- You think about going online or playing when you are supposed to be focusing on other things, like doing school work or having dinner with your family.
- You spend more time with your keyboard or controller than physically hanging out with your friends.
- Your friends or parents ask what you spend all your time doing, and you lie about it or laugh it off, but inside you know they may have a point.
- You get up in the middle of the night to check your e-mail or your MySpace comments because you’re having a hard time sleeping.
In general, these warning signs closely imitate those of alcoholism and other addictions. If it looks like an addiction, it probably is or could become one.
How to get help
Some cities have local video game addiction groups that meet together to discuss strategies for coping with the problem. If there are no game addiction groups nearby, video-game-addiction.org has many resources and even a hotline on their website. Other sources of help can be church leaders, family and friends, and psychiatrists trained in treating other types of addictions.
Remember, video game addiction is a serious illness. If you or someone you know is exhibiting the signs of video game addiction, help should be sought right away.