Video Games Not Just Child's Play; Addiction Diagnosis Possible

Article excerpt

Byline: Karen Goldberg Goff, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

For the vast majority of video game enthusiasts, games are just games - a high-tech way to pass time, have fun and sometimes compete against real-world friends.

For a growing segment, however, it is serious business - to the point where it can be tough to separate the needs of reality from the needs of the game.

That's why the American Psychiatric Association is considering adding video game addiction to its next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the standard diagnosis book for mental health professionals.

The DSM-V will come out in 2012 - the first major revision since 1994. By then, the problem for some gamers might be even more pronounced, says Kimberly Young, a Pennsylvania psychologist and director of the Center for Internet Addiction and Recovery.

Ms. Young says video game addiction should be a formal diagnosis because until clinicians understand what they are dealing with, they cannot adequately help those who show symptoms.

I have found that many people who have a problem with technology overuse have an addictive personality to begin with, she says. We've seen traditional addictions like sex and gambling taken online. There is a whole new generation of people who are comfortable with technology, so they have more access to [their addictions]. The unique thing about gaming addiction, though, is it doesn't exist off-line. There is no way to access the games you crave without it.

To be fair, most of the people Ms. Young and other psychologists deal with are not casual game enthusiasts who enjoy an hour or two of Super Mario. Actual addiction symptoms, such as experiencing withdrawal symptoms and jeopardizing relationships, most often are found among those who intensely play Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG) such as EverQuest and World of Warcraft. These are complex games that are highly social, very strategic, extremely competitive and, most notably, never end.

An American Medical Association report says about 9 percent of gamers take part in MMORPGs. The report, which was submitted to the APA, says researchers have found that those who are most susceptible to overuse are somewhat marginalized socially, perhaps experience high levels of emotional loneliness and/or difficulty with real life social interactions. The current theory is that these individuals achieve more control of their social relationships and more success in social relationships in the virtual reality realm than in real relationships.

Elizabeth Woolley of Nashville, Tenn., has seen that pattern firsthand. Her son, Shawn, then 21, committed suicide in 2001. She says video game addiction led to his death.

He played for about 10 years and had no problem, Ms. Woolley says. Then he discovered EverQuest. He just became a different person - withdrawn. Socially inactive. The game became the solution to all his problems. He would spend two-thirds of his day playing the game. He would stay up all night and play it. He had suffered from ADHD and stopped taking his medication.

Ms. Woolley has since founded On-line Gamers Anonymous (www.olganon.org), where others who get caught up in the games post their experiences and find support. Consider this post from a former gamer:

"I started to ignore my wife, ALOT, and sadly, my 2 daughters even more. Many times I would forget to eat and drink because I was so consumed with this game. Sometimes I had to go to the bathroom but I didn't want to get up because most of the time it was in the middle of a tough fight and I just couldn't leave my computer because the thought of even dying in this game is scary. …