As a clinical psychologist with 21 years experience, I've grown increasingly impressed with the role videogaming plays in the lives of today's younger generation. Colleagues report it is the biggest single source of stress in many families. Parents struggle to set limits and restrict access, while the young men and women who play find the experience engrossing, entertaining, and important. Is it all just about fun and distraction? For many, gaming represents an important psychological investment and even the core of their social universes.
Some are able to integrate intensive video gaming into their lives in a healthy way. Others find themselves entrenched in a cycle of compulsive play which can drain "real life" of joy, pleasure, and connection.
I've worked with many gamers in recent years and learned a great deal about their gaming lives. I also played World of Warcraft intensively for a year myself to see the effects first-hand, which I wrote about in my article for The Escapist "Physician Gank Thyself." The article drew a great deal of thoughtful reaction and commentary from The Escapist's community.
This made me think that the gaming community could use a place to reflect on the place of this hobby in their lives, and get feedback on their experiences and concerns both from an "expert," and from each other. So think of "Ask Dr. Mark" as a place to let it rip. What are your videogaming pet peeves? How do you understand the role of gaming in your lives? How do you deal with the reactions of parents, friends, and significant others? When does a great hobby become a big problem? Have you encountered difficult situations within a game?
As a sample, I offer the following comments from the article and my thoughts.
Don't Call Me An Addict!
I despise the idea that online games are an "addiction" and therefore universally bad. In MY opinion, everyone should be given the opportunity to exhibit personal responsibility.If you know you are prone to play a game to the point that it becomes unhealthy, you should have the personal responsibility to limit your play time or stop playing altogether. Too many people blame the GAME for their own lack of self control.
The point which the article dances around is people play online games because they are FUN, not because they possess some mystical power of mind control. WoW is only a skinner box if you have the mindset of a lab rat.
Those people who cannot control themselves will play until it ruins their lives. Then when they realize what they've done they BLAME THE GAME for THEIR actions. YOU stayed up all night, YOU spent the welfare checks on internet bills, and YOU ruined your life. The game didn't do that, YOU DID. Those people then go around telling other people that the game is evil and bad, and that nobody should play it ever.
The fact is there ARE responsible people in the world (such as myself) who CAN control their lives and play games they enjoy at the same time. Those people do not need to be chastised or regulated because some lab rat dropped out of college.
I played WoW for years. Before that I played many other MMOs including Ultima Online and EverQuest. I enjoy playing MMORPGs. I also have a wife, a job, and a degree. I have never let a game interfere with my responsibilities.
I stopped playing WoW, not because I was addicted and needed an intervention, but because I became bored with the game. Do heroine addicts get bored of shooting up? Do crackheads get bored of smoking crack? No.
The "game addiction" is a lie made up by people seeking to blame an outside influence for their own destructive behavior. If you screw up, admit it. Blame yourself for your own mistakes. Stop using the game as your scapegoat. Stop telling people how to manage their lives when you cannot manage your own. Stop stereotyping all MMO gamers as hopeless addicts who have no self control. Just stop.
You raise the important question of whether WoW or videogaming can be thought of as addictive behavior. Just because you and others are responsible and can control themselves doesn't mean it isn't addictive. I can control my drinking and I don't use crack - does this mean there aren't alcoholics or crack addicts? On the other hand, I sympathize with the notion that gaming is something we choose to do and something we can stop. I guess you could say the same about alcohol or crack, but we assume these to have physiological effects that create a physical dependence, so we think its not a matter of will that someone stops or not.