The following op-ed was supposed to appear on Friday, November 12 in a very respectable newspaper. A big-time snafu on their end kept that from happening. I think many of the points are useful so instead of leaving the piece to disappear into the depths of my hard drive, I'm posting it here below. Being created with a newspaper audience in mind, the readers would be the general public vs. the extremely astute readers of Psychology Today, though I think you'll appreciate the piece regardless.
National Gaming Day Is Sending the Wrong Message
On November 13, 1,800 libraries throughout the world will participate in the largest simultaneous national video game tournament ever. While folks from Guinness World Records might be supportive of this, the rest of us should not be. Why? Because to encourage video game playing without discussing video game addiction is like announcing the pleasures of drinking wine without discussing hangovers and alcoholism.
China and South Korea already consider video game addiction their #1 public health crisis. China has several hundred "boot camps" for people with video game and/or internet addictions, and South Korea has trained 1,000 addiction counselors who work at 200 "digital detox" treatment centers. Add in that both countries are finding ways to limit the playtime of kids under 18 through curfews, bans, and software, and it's clear that a lot of people in Asia are very concerned.
But is the U.S. part of this global epidemic? The American Medical Association thinks so. In 2007, their study found that five million American kids (age 8-18) might be addicted to video games. Considering that the average gamer is 35 and has been gaming for 12 years, we should be more worried about the 114 million American adults gamers. With experts' claims ranging from 5% to 15% of gamers being addicted, the U.S. might have as many as 15 million addicts.
"But what about the DSM?" you might want to holler. It's true that the American Psychiatric Association's book of "official" mental disorders, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, doesn't currently list "video game addiction," but all signs point to them including it in the 2013 version, though. If you've ever seen someone zombifying in front of a screen for hours while playing Halo, World of Warcraft, or EVE online, you probably wouldn't need to debate video game addiction's legitimacy. And don't discount the destructive power of video games in the presence of a gamer widow (someone who has "lost" a spouse or partner to the allure of video games), or they'll show you ferocity that'll make a grizzly bear cringe. Just check out the testimonies at www.wowdetox.com, a "volunteer-run web site aimed at people with a gaming addiction to World of Warcraft," for a glimpse at the tens of thousands of lives that have been powerfully affected by an unhealthy relationship with video games.
An extreme case of video game addiction is Hawaii's Craig Smallwood, who recently leveled a lawsuit against the makers of Lineage II, saying that he became so addicted that he had problems "getting up, getting dressed, bathing or communicating with family and friends." In August, U.S. District Judge Alan Kay refused to dismiss the gross negligence claim, which might have far-reaching implications in the video game industry.
It's also not just geeks and nerds who are hooked. One of the best tennis players in the world, Andy Murray, got dumped by Kim Sears in late 2009 because of his alleged seven-hour-a-day Playstation 3 habit. And Quinn Pitcock, a highly-touted 2007 draft pick of the Indianapolis Colts, played only one year before quitting and spending the next two years gaming like his life depended on it. (His attempted comeback this year fell short when he was waived by the Seattle Seahawks in September.) As a digital addiction recovery consultant, I regularly work with people from all walks of life. Professional athletes. A-list celebrities. Surgeons. Firemen. Soccer moms. Soldiers.
Video game addiction is a future that's available to anyone no matter their race, socio-economic status, or age. That's not to say that everyone who plays will become addicted, but without good role models to show what a healthy relationship to virtual environments looks like, it's easy to slip so far into the digital rabbit hole that once you realize it's too far, it's too late.
I do support public libraries, and I also value fun. So go ahead and visit your local participating library on National Gaming Day. They'll have plenty of board games on hand--I recommend Sorry, The Settlers of Catan, and Hullabaloo. I also recommend checking out a few books with more words than pictures. If you want to play video games there too, go ahead. Just understand that, statistically speaking, everyone knows at least one person who's either a video game addict or is well on that path.
If you can't locate that person, it might well be you.
Ryan G. Van Cleave is the author of Unplugged: My Journey Into the Dark World of Video Game Addiction; he is also a frequent medical conference speaker on video game addiction, gaming culture, and social networking.