Interview With an Expert on Video Game Addiction

January 25th, 2011

Video Games are everywhere.  Not too long ago, video games were reserved for a niche audience, but the pastime has evolved into a mainstream media giant with story lines and graphics rivaling Hollywood CG films.  The rise of video games has grown, hand in hand, with the rise in video game addiction.  Some experts even claim 4% of Americans are addicted to video games.  But when some say 72% of Americans (ages 6-44) play video games an average of 18 hours a week, how does one know when he has become addicted?

To sort through some of these questions, we contacted Thomas Umstattd Jr., the Executive Director of CGames, a web site dedicated to “straight talk on the dangers of video and computer gaming”, a great resource for those of you who might be worried you or a loved one is addicted to video games.

AllTreatment: Video game addiction is odd in terms of the mainstream idea of addiction simply because there are so many people play who video games.  In fact, I’ve seen a stat which states that 72% of americans play video games 18 hours a week.  From a third person perspective, at what point would you consider someone addicted?  More importantly, how might someone come to know he’s addicted?

Thomas Umstattd Jr: Time per week is an indicator of addiction. Once someone is playing for 25+ hours per week they are likely addicted. Another way to check is to see how the gamer handles a multi week break from gaming.

When evaluating yourself, one of the signs of addiction is when the game starts to consume your thoughts when you are not playing. When you dream about the game, that is a key indicator of addiction.

AT:  By now, many of us have heard stories of violent outbursts from video game addicts.  From the Danial Petric who shot his parents, to Alexandra Tobias who killed her baby, and even videos online of kids who throw horrible fits simply because they can’t play their favorite game.  What causes these outbursts?

TUJ:  Playing a digital game causes the brain to release dopamine into the basal ganglia portion of the brain. This is very similar to what crack cocaine does to the brain. Dopamine is the pleasure chemical and when you take away the game you are taking away the primary source of pleasure. Taking the game away from an addict would be like trying to take crack away from a crack addict.

I don’t think violent video games make people violent. The studies on this are inconclusive. But dopamine deprivation can make people do irrational things.

AT: Why is video game addiction getting so prevalent?  Are parents giving their kids games while they are too young to know the difference, a psychological problem, or is it more related to our society?

TUJ:  Gaming is perhaps the cheapest form of entertainment. $10 can buy you two hours of entertainment at a movie theater. A $10 video game can give you perhaps 50 hours of entertainment. Not only is the entertainment cheaper it is more immersive and allows the player to escape the real world into a digital alternative.

AT:  What are options for recovery and prevention of video game addiction?
TUJ:  The key to quitting is to replace gaming with something else. Saying “no” to gaming doesn’t work unless you say “yes” to a replacement for that time. People who successfully recover from a gaming addiction typically say that they “don’t have time for gaming anymore.” What this means is that something else has become more important in their life than the game. That alternative activity will be different for each person. Sometimes this is as easy as getting a job.
Another helpful tool is to have friends around you who keep you accountable and help you find freedom. If you need a community to encourage you I would recommend the Online Gamers Anonymous. Another great resource is the CGames podcast and blog.

S. Cody Barrus
Managing Editor

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