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“I’m more scared of gaming than I am of cocaine and alcohol addiction.”

EDIT: the story has gone live on the BBC site. Click here.

“I’m more scared of gaming than I am of cocaine and alcohol addiction.”
Keith Bakker, founder of Europe’s first clinic for video game addiction

Those of you listening to BBC Radio 1 this morning may have been surprised to hear the lead story – video game addiction, how it is a genuine concern and how gaming publishers and developers aren’t doing enough to combat the issue. I’m going to put my C at GCSE psychology to good use here and take part in some cod-psych-evaluating. Or something.

So somebody dropped out of university because they played too many games? Is that what we’re basing this on? The example of one person who may or may not have actually suffered the problems he claimed? I dropped out of uni at one point (I went back, mind) because of reasons I didn’t want to own up to, as I knew it was far too embarrassing to admit to people I’d reacted in such a way simply because I’d “had a bad year”. I’m not saying that’s why this guy had to leave, obviously, but I do know it sounds a bit fishy.

Is playing games unhealthy? Well, yes. Sitting around all day isn’t good for you. But it’s your choice what you do with yourself, and as long as you’re not hurting yourself or others (and are of capable mental faculties/age to look after yourself) then what the hell does it matter what you do? When things go wrong people look to blame the easiest thing they can, and the media are all too happy to perpetuate a scare story.

“The more we work with these kids the less I believe we can call this addiction. What many of these kids need is their parents and their school teachers – this is a social problem.”
Keith Bakker

There are always going to be examples of people playing games too much. I played Enslaved all day Friday, pretty much from start to finish. I see this as a normal thing to do with my time – it was hammering it down with rain, I can’t paint and television is utterly awful. But there are people who let gaming adversely affect their lives, and that’s where it goes too far.

But that’s the same for anything – gambling, eating, trawling the internet, drinking, drug use, watching too much bloody anime, travelling*, watching TV and lots of other things I can’t think of right now. There are people who take these things to extremes and just don’t know when to stop (some for more obvious, physiological reasons, than others of course). People can and will try to give themselves as much as possible of a good thing, such is our innate desire to gobble up as much of the tasty Fun Pie as possible.

Gaming is just the easiest target right now. Apparently TV is only harmful to kids, not reasonable adults (who base their entire lives around watching mind-numbing programming all week). Food is a pleasant pursuit – not something harmful (hello, 64-stone woman). Having a glass of wine every other day is fine, and so what if it extends to a bottle of wine a day (then switches out wine for vodka)? It’s not necessarily that things are addictive; more that people are capable of – or willing to, or even complicit in – being addicted.

Addiction is a serious, life-changing issue that can destroy lives, contributing to the loss of jobs, family break-ups and even suicide. It isn’t little Jimmy playing a game for a few hours when it’s raining outside. It isn’t even little Jimmy playing a game for a few hours when it isn’t raining outside. All the parents who want their kids to stop playing games: stop them from playing. You are the parent, you are in control. When my dad didn’t want my brother and I playing the Amiga he would take the RF modulator component, meaning we couldn’t connect the machine to a TV. It was generally used as a punishment when we had misbehaved and it upset us greatly, but you know what? It stopped us from playing. He was our dad, so he had control. “I can’t stop them” is not a valid excuse – do your job as a parent if you care so much, don’t run crying to the nearest hack reporter who will write up anything and sell it as a shock story.

“Eighty per cent of the young people we see have been bullied at school and feel isolated. Many of the symptoms they have can be solved by going back to good old fashioned communication.”
Keith Bakker

As for those a bit older, who have to look after themselves? You don’t have a disease; you have a compulsion. There is still choice involved, and if you think you play games too much then you have absolute control. How? Well don’t turn on the console, for one. Don’t switch on the TV, lean over to the power switch on the console, put in the disc, boot up the game, press the start button and have direct input over the action on the screen for hours on end. If you think it’s so bad for you, you have control. Same for the MMOs on PC – just don’t turn them on. Don’t load them up, log in to the server and start playing. Avoid that part then you avoid the addiction. It might not be easy, but it’s definitely a choice. If you need help to stop, get it and use it – you are capable of banning certain programs from running on PC, just as you are more than capable of giving your games to someone to hold onto for you so you don’t have access. This would be rather extreme, but there are options. You won’t die if you stop playing.

Of course, if you’re playing games and it has no negative effect on your life whatsoever, then continue to ignore the panicked arm-waving of the wannabe Mary Whitehouse-brigade as they screech “BAN EVERYTHING!” at you. Because you know what? You know what’s best for you, and as long as you’re not hurting anybody else I couldn’t give two fresh pumps what you do in your own time. And I’d hope you don’t care what I do in mine.

Right, I’m going to play video games all day now. But this isn’t addiction – it’s my job.

“In most cases of compulsive gaming, it is not addiction and in that case, the solution lies elsewhere.”
Keith Bakker

*Seriously. You know what I mean. Those people who never stop going places and never shut up about it. That’s an addiction and betrays their inability to actually settle down somewhere and shut up about the ‘enlightening’ experience you had in India… ahem.

[Keith Bakker quotes via BBC News, except for the first one, which is from an interview conducted with 360 magazine]

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  • Garan

    I don’t know how one could say they are,or be classed as being addicted to gaming.Its just attention seeking on their part and money making on the [Quote] Hack journalists and “treatment centres” parts.

  • Jack

    Fantastic blog. I read every word and I really am impressed at how the matter has been viewed.