Ask Dr Mark

Ask Dr Mark
Addicted to Gaming

Mark J. Kline | 23 Dec 2010 13:00
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As I have noted before, today's video games are incredibly psychoactive--they can really get into players' heads--and that's what many of us find so intriguing about them. In problem gaming, this can involve a relentless, obsessive pre-occupation with the game and its images, so that they populate the mind in almost every waking moment and even sleep through dreams. This can become part of an addictive cycle if it interferes significantly with other mental activity.

The problem gamers I have known often evidence a profound loss of perspective about their hobby and its consequences. Feedback that gaming may be self-destructive for them is ignored or rebutted. They imagine that some real world benefit will result from their devotion to the habit (most common example: I'll get so good at a game that I'll win big money on the pro tour or be able to put my accomplishments on a resume and surely get hired by a gaming company). Real-life failures don't seem to help them clearly assess the impact of their habit. Another way to think of this is that they will protect the habit--and the wonderful experiences and feelings they have when they play, from any threat or risk--even if this leads to deterioration of basic life structures. After all, it's hard to game if you don't have a place to live, electricity, food, and money for gaming. But some try.

To me a very interesting question is why some people get addicted to gaming and others don't when the game and level of activity may be the same. Do some of us simply have "addictive personalities," or are there issues and problems in living that we are fleeing when we lose ourselves in gaming in an extreme way? Does all the technology that young children are exposed to today somehow prime them for this kind of problem? We don't know the answers to these questions but I think they are worth asking.

As I have stated often in this column, I do believe that many devoted gamers are able to achieve a balance between gaming and the rest of their lives, so I don't believe that intensive gaming is necessarily problem gaming or gaming addiction. I'm also fascinated by the many ways gamers get legitimate and important psychological needs met through this hobby. For some it becomes a way to develop and sustain key relationships that might never have emerged without gaming. For others, it can be a way to tolerate physical and psychological pain. Or perhaps gaming is a new mode of learning, interaction, and problem solving that is becoming a norm for today's generation--as poorly understood as it continues to be by elders.

I think it's impossible to say someone's gaming habit is addictive based on how many hours per day they devote to it. Your brother may be the kind of super-organized person who can game five or six hours a day and still attend to other basic human needs and life obligations. If so, it's not for me or anyone's mother to insist they must have a problem.

So, in answer to your question, I do think problematic, potentially addictive videogaming is a reality, but definitely not the only reality. My hope is that we can look at our behavior and its consequences and develop the perspective and motivation to keep it in balance.

Dr. Mark Kline wants to know what a blu ray player is and why they spell blu without the "e". Will this affect blu cheese in any way? Have a question for Dr. Mark? Send it to Your identity will remain confidential.

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