Parents can sometimes be overheard talking fearfully about “video game addiction.” In fact, if a child is forbidden from playing video games it’s often because parents don’t want their kid getting “addicted” to games and spending hours on titles that will sap their grades, health, and social life.
Technically, video game addiction is not a disorder that’s recognized by the World Health Organization or the American Psychiatric Association. And, unlike quitting a powerful drug or dealing with alcoholism, going cold turkey on video games won’t deprive your body of a substance it has come to depend on, and therefore won’t throw you into a haze of tumultuous side effects, making it difficult to even classify excessive gaming as an “addiction.”
That said, men and women who have been ensnared by gaming at the cost of their jobs, education, and family life have reason not to think of their ordeal as anything less than an addiction, and that goes double for the people in their lives who are affected by the fallout.
Last year, Ryan G. Van Cleave, a former professor at South Carolina’s Clemson University, published a book about his own struggles with game addiction in a book titled Unplugged: My Journey into the Dark World of Video Game Addiction. Van Cleave was consumed by World of Warcraft, which consumed his job, his friendships, and nearly cost him his life after he was driven to attempt suicide, which failed.
Currently, Van Cleave works as a writer and an addiction recovery consultant who helps other troubled gamers right themselves through email, lectures, and phone calls. What makes his ordeal especially noteworthy is his outlook on perceived video game addiction: Namely, this is the first generation that has been fully immersed in a digital world and can’t look back at its parents’ mistakes for guidance on how to proceed. By contrast, an individual who struggled through his or her parents’ problems with smoking, drinking, or drugs might be motivated to stay away from said vices.
“A big problem with video game addiction is that most of us didn’t have good role models around to show us what a healthy relationship to the digital world looks like — the technology is too new,” says Van Cleave. “Dating? Drinking? Work ethic? We all saw that through our parents in negative or positive examples — we always had something to spin our own experiences off of. For the digital world, we’re mostly going it alone, and we’re making a lot of mistakes and misjudgments.”
Definitely an intriguing outlook on the matter of excessive gaming, and one that suggests that coming generations might have an easier time understanding the consequences of sitting in front of a screen for too long. That’s not to suggest game addiction will go away, but we’ll be better equipped to talk honestly about the benefits and drawbacks of gaming as a pastime. Simply banning a child from computers and video games isn’t an option in a world that’s increasingly run by electronic devices–and where free online games like FarmVille are easy to access.
In fact, unlike some vices, playing video games also provide clear, undeniable benefits when they’re played in moderation. Games can be used to exercise, draw, animate, and even serve as a jumping-off point for storytelling.
Video game addiction has yet to be thoroughly studied and defined, but it’s undeniable that the pastime can be habit-forming to an extreme degree. Parent involvement should begin early, and it should be maintained for as long as a kid needs to balance gaming with his or her chores and schoolwork.
Special Thanks: What They Play