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Role Addiction

By Abigail Paris | January 23, 2008

Screen shot from EverQuest II. Image by
TexMurphy (Fair Use).

The American Medical Association (AMA) published a report in 2007 reviewing research data on the addictive potential of video games. The report suggests that gaming addiction is likely to be a subset of Internet addiction and may cause negative physical, psychosocial, or behavioral problems. The condition most frequently occurs in players of Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs).

The definitions of Internet addiction and MMORPG addiction are still informal. The term Internet addiction was first used in the 1990s, extending the psychiatric lexicon of addiction to include persons using the Internet to such an extent that it causes "significant social, psychological, and occupational impairment."

MMORPGs (pronounced "morpegs" or "more pigs") are "competitive and highly social, and provide interactive real-time services," according to the AMA report. The data suggest that users of these games tend to be individuals who are "marginalized socially." Additionally, the report states that these individuals achieve "more success in social relationships in the virtual reality realm than in real relationships." The AMA has issued a directive calling for additional research on the addictive aspects of MMORPGs.

In favor of online games, Wired reports that in moderation they can have positive effects. For those who are marginalized socially, MMORPGs facilitate the development of socialization skills across diverse Internet populations. MMORPGs have been used to help "abused children in Portuguese safe houses by bringing them into the game and then working on socialization, collaboration, team building, computer skills and more."

MMORPGs offer less gore and yield greater participation rates among women than offline video games. Violent offline games often involve rapid action that requires buttons to be pushed in quick succession. When these games are translated online, much of the rapid action is lost due to Internet lag. Even when games are translated into online formats, the number of enemies is typically decreased, as these enemies are played by other gamers and are not computer generated. Because the opponents are human, online games require creative thinking.

In South Korea, Internet addiction is a serious problem. South Korea claims virtually "universal Internet access" with 90 percent broadband penetration into homes. According to a three-year government study of the problem, 30 percent of people under the age of 18, or about 2.4 million children and adolescents, are at risk for Internet addiction.

Of that 30 percent, a quarter million show signs of addiction—withdrawal symptoms and an inability to stop. To deal with the problem, the South Korean government has built counseling centers, treatment programs at numerous hospitals, and an Internet Rescue School—"providing a mix of military style, physical exercise and rehabilitation."

Other countries are beginning to follow suit. Thailand, Vietnam, and China have recently joined South Korea in trying to control the amount of time teens spend online. In Thailand, gamers have been banned from game servers between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. In Vietnam, recent government regulations tried to work through gaming companies. Their strategy was to make it more difficult for gamers to receive bonus points after three hours of play, and impossible after five.

Chinese policies attempt to remove teens from networked games after five hours and bar youths from Internet cafes. In addition, China has set up rehabilitation clinics that use counseling, military discipline, drugs, hypnosis, and mild electric shocks. These centers are more akin to detention centers than summer camps.

In the United States no such measures have been taken. The report of the AMA calls for formal inclusion of Internet and video game addiction as an officially described disorder, including diagnostic criteria, in future revisions to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Disagreement remains over when online gaming becomes hazardous to one's health. But, like other addictions, the impetus for treating the young Internet addicted gamers falls on parents and family physicians.

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Read More: Culture, Gender, Health, Technology, China, Korea (South), Thailand, United States, Vietnam, Americas, Asia, Global

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