Are Computer Games Addictive?

Are computer games addictive?

I remember my first personal computer — it was 1987 and my uncle gave us his old Apple IIe. What was then a 3 year old computer system seemed to me a playground unlike any other. Looking back, it was a simple machine. Kids wear more complicated devices on their wrists now and call them watches. “Programs” (read Games) ran off floppy disks and the monitor displayed a dizzying mix of toxic green and charcoal gray.

And I was something of a computer game addict. There was nothing more engaging to me than repeated journeys through a Nazi prison or the repetitive jumping up and down on trampolines to catch poorly sketched apples. After school, before school, and eventually during school (under the guise of “computer science”) if I was awake, I was tapping keys.

I got over this pretty quick. For a child of the 80s, I was not much of a video game player. I got interested in the outdoors, in sports, and eventually (under the guise of “group dating”) girls. If computer games are addictive, as a new report from a group of German psychologists suggest, then I am well into my recovery.

Still — just because I was able to kick the demon of the floppy drive doesn’t mean that gaming isn’t addictive. Games today are all encompassing, with graphics that mimic or even improve on reality, and involved gameplay that can cause hours to melt from your clock. I haven’t played a computer game (outside of the odd Minesweeper or Solitaire jaunt) in about fifteen years. I’m not the best guy to ask if the games are addictive.

So perhaps computer games do carry the actual risk of a real physical addiction, as suggested by a new study in Germany. According to the press release, computer game addiction is a total addiction — and the withdrawal from gaming comes complete with all the classic symptoms of drug withdrawal. Psychologists in Germany found that computer game addicts who are not given access to their normal amount of gaming show symptoms like a racing heart beat, sweating, and even nervous tics and dilation of the eyes. Klaus Woelfling, a psychologist at the Clinic for Gaming Addiction at the University of Mainz in Germany, headed the study that is garnering a bit of buzz on the Internet this week.

According to Woelfling, whose last name is very similar to the Caste Wolfenstein of my misspent early 1980s, a gaming problem exists when the game player stops being able to control his play — a gamer, much like a drug addict, loses his ability to make good decisions about gaming — when to play, when to shut the thing off, when to stop thinking about games, etc. Game addicts feel an uncontrollable urge to play, making this a very real addiction.

If you see danger signs in yourself or your friends, you should consider the idea of gaming addiction. If you’re confronting a friend or family member, do so without making direct commands or accusations. Many addicts (of any substance) will shut down when discussing their potential problem, says Woelfling, most likely because of their own guilt on the matter.

Woelfling further suggests that the desire for change has to come from within the individual. If you know someone who might need help with gaming addiction, your best bet is to get them into a twelve step program, or into the office of a psychologist, as currently (at least in the USA) there is only one hospital dealing with the specific problem of gaming addiction.