10 August 2007

Is game addiction for real?

Obsessed with video games? Top US doctors say you may be suffering from a real addiction.

Obsessed with video games? You may suffer from a real addiction, according to a proposal up for debate by top US doctors.

Delegates attending the American Medical Association (AMA) conference in Chicago, which started on Saturday, will discuss the proposed addition of video game addiction to a list of "formal disorders," where it would join other problem behaviours such as pathological gambling.

Dr Martin Wasserman, executive director of MedChi, the Maryland State Medical Society, helped spearhead the new proposal.

"The concern came up because one of our psychiatrists here in Maryland was seeing older people who were losing their social contacts," specifically because of their overuse of video games, Wasserman said. "It was ruining their family life. So, it was not unlike gambling addictions or alcohol, where it was having a profound impact on the lives of individuals."

Meets criteria for addiction
According to Wasserman's report, one soon-to-be-released British study polled 7 000 "gamers" and found that 12 percent of them met World Health Organisation criteria for addictive behaviours.

Statistics released in 2005 by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), an industry group, estimated that 70 to 90 percent of American children play video games. However, the typical gamer is a not a child: it's a 30-year-old male, and he spends about seven or eight hours a week gaming. Nearly one in 10 of these play online in Internet-based "massive multiplayer online role playing games", and that's when the real overuse problem creeps in.

The AMA report defines heavy game use as two or more hours a day, but Wasserman, a paediatrician, said addictions are defined by their impact on an individual's life and psyche.

"Basically, you're using a disproportionate amount of time on the video game, and it's what you are thinking about even when you're not on the video game," he said. "And even though it's having negative consequences for you in school or your family situation, or it's taking a disproportionate amount of your money, you still continue to do it. You spend less time with your friends or in other social things."

Preferred to real world
One theory about why some people spend so much time on online games, is that they prefer the experience to real-world interaction. According to the report's authors, "these individuals achieve more control of their social relationships and more success in social relationships in the virtual reality realm than in real relationships."

But that sense of control may come at a price, Wasserman said, especially for children and adults involved in games loaded with violent imagery.

"The violent aspects of this, in particular, have got to be a threat to the normal growth and development that we'd like to see in young people," he said. "People have observed more aggressive behaviours [linked to gaming], and if you do subjective testing, there are studies which have shown aggressive behaviours in young people and less supportive behaviours."

Wasserman wonders, as well, about the sedentary aspects of hours of video game use. "I can't tell you if this is associated with our current epidemic of child obesity," he said, "but too much time in front of a video tube - and much of that time spent watching violent interactions - can't be good for our kids."

Only a starting point
But the AMA report remains merely a starting point for discussion among doctors gathering in Chicago. Dr James Scully, medical director at the APA, said any decision on the matter is a long way off.

Right now, "we don't agree or disagree" with the idea, he said. "As a diagnostic issue, it is going to be several years before we make a determination of that. It's clearly something that we want to consider."

Limit screen time to 2 hours
In the meantime, he said, it's up to parents to limit their child's exposure to video games, especially the more violent ones. Both the AMA and the APA support current recommendations from the American Academy of Paediatrics that limit children's exposure to all "screen time" - TV, computers and video games - to a total of two hours a day.

Wasserman believes this simple rule can minimise media's potentially harmful effects. Media, in itself, isn't always bad, he said, but "everything needs to be done in moderation."

"That's what we taught our kids - if they didn't do it in moderation in our home, we moderated it for them," he said. "It didn't hurt them." – (HealthDayNews)

Read more:
Too much sex and violence?
Video gamers make better surgeons
Games make dangerous drivers

June 2007


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