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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Is MMORPG Addiction Real?

I have received a tremendous amount of interest on the general question - are role-playing games addictive? From campus newspapers to national television news, stories about online gaming addiction are rapidly becoming a new hot issue. Within this context, you have to ask – does the behavior meet the standard definition for compulsive behavior? Using the DSM, the reference guide for psychiatric practice, many of our clients do fit the criteria. Certainly not everyone who plays games becomes addicted. However, over the last decade, more research has come out citing symptoms, risk factors, and treatment for video game addiction – and addiction to Massive Multi-user Online Role Playing Games.

Signs of online gaming addiction include a preoccupation with gaming, loss of interest in other activities, academic problems for students, social withdrawal from family and friends, using gaming as an escape, and continuing to game despite its consequences. We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of calls from parents concerned about a child’s online gaming habits in the last year. Gaming has become a particular problem in Korea and China where new clinics addressing the problem have opened and a new Detox Center for Video Game Addiction opened in Amsterdam this past summer for intensive inpatient treatment.

Given the growing number of treatment centers and documented cases of gaming addicts, I think we have moved beyond the question on whether gaming addiction exists but rather we need to focus on understanding the dynamics associated with the problem. Some researchers have identified specific personality types who are most vulnerable to develop an addiction to role-playing games. Other research has investigated cognitive or brain changes among gamers and yet other research have looked at the social dynamics of computer-mediated communication in multi-user gaming. This is all helpful to gain the type of academic and clinical understanding essential to dealing with problem use.

I think one way to deal with the issue is to educate parents on the potential harm that can come from online gaming. As with other addictions, education and awareness are perhaps the greatest ways to deal with prevention. From the cases we have seen, children with low self-esteem, who are highly intelligent, socially withdrawn, and who have a family history of addiction appear the most vulnerable to developing an addiction problem. If parents, as the ones most likely to first notice the signs of addiction, could be alerted to them, then they would be better able to act more swiftly to reduce the potential for problems to develop.

Finally, as part of the dialogue in the field, I have published a new article "Addiction to MMORPG: Symptoms and Treatment" that gives a basic summary of the problem, signs of addiction, and treatment issues involved. You can link to http://www.netaddiction.com/articles/addiction_to_mmorpgs.pdf to view the article.