An article on MSNBC.com this week raised the question--again about whether or not video games are addictive. If you take anecdotal evidence as fact--the question is worth considering--
- A guy in South Korea plays Star Craft until he dies.
- The couple in Reno neglects their kids in favor of playing a popular game.
- The American Medical Association considers adding video addiction to its list of compulsive disorders.
If you polled most teenagers--or adults who enjoy playing with friends in a virtual world or competing on Guitar Hero with people half way around the globe, most would disagree with labeling their choice of entertainment as an addiction. Their position isn't unlike someone who has an occasional glass of wine feeling it unfair to be defined an alcoholic. But anyone who has crossed that line from enjoyment to compulsion to addition will tell you pastimes become passions faster than one can ever imagine and the journey back is far more difficult than the one they followed into a behavior they can no longer stop or even control.
But getting to the the key issue--the root cause of any behavior begins by recognizing that the behavior is usually only a symptom. A recovering alcoholic will tell you drinking isn't the problem--why he drinks is the problem. An anorexic's binging and purging isn't about food--it's about the issues she hopes she can throw up and get out of her life with her latest feast of fast food and milkshakes.
So wherever the debate about video game addition may progress, psychologists, parents, players, and frustrated observers need to look beyond the behavior and start exploring what's distinct and different about people that can make a trip into a virtual world and return in a reasonable time compared to those who find a virtual reality far more appealing than the one they live in each day. Frustrated parents are wise to ask themselves what about their home makes their kids want to spend multiple hours a day in another reality where they disengage from their parents.
Whenever an action becomes a compulsion, the action is not longer the issue--the reason behind the behavior becomes the priority. Limiting a compulsion doesn't resolve it any more than turning up your radio resolves that noise in the engine of your car.
If video addiction is a genuine disorder we won't find the answer to the problem in the code that drives the game or the controllers that people clutch in their hands. Here, as with most problems--the root cause may be far from the problem that catches our attention.