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A Look at Video Game Addiction

Is your child glued to the screen? One expert says it's better to wean players from the controllers than it is to go cold turkey.

It seems like we toss around the term “addiction” rather easily. Chocolate, shoes, yoga, puggles, Pinterest; we can’t just like something a lot, we have to be “addicted” to it. But what actually constitutes a real addiction?

Actually, there are two types of addictions, substance addictions and behavioral addictions. With a behavioral addiction, a person will obsessively think about, and compulsively engage in an activity, even though there are harmful consequences. If your son spends all his waking hours counting down the minutes until he can play Call of Duty, you may have a problem. If he has stopped studying, hanging out with friends, or sleeping to get in more playing time, you definitely have a problem.

, I recently sat down with Dr. David Greenfield, one of the leading authorities on Internet and cyber psychology, including its use and abuse, and author of “Virtual Addiction,” to discuss video game addiction.

Sue: Let’s start with the obvious; can playing video games be addictive?

Dr. Dave: The unpredictability and novelty of the internet medium itself is addictive. Video games work on the principal of operant conditioning. When playing the game, the reward center of the brain is stimulated releasing dopamine, a powerful “feel good” chemical in the brain. In addition, the player doesn’t know when the reward is coming, making it all the more addictive. He or she will continuously play, looking for that “hit” of dopamine.

Sue: It seems boys are more attracted to video games than girls. Why is this?

Dr. Dave: Boys are more likely to become addicted to video games because they are hardwired for competition. It is easier and less stressful to have virtual social interactions, and it gives them the opportunity to be “King of the Hill” in the virtual world, which is something they might not get in the real world.

Sue: One way to get a kid to stop playing is to just throw the Xbox away. Is that what you would tell parents to do?

Dr. Dave: Getting rid of the gaming device, while it seems like a good idea, isn’t the best way to handle a video game addiction. In extreme cases a child can get violent when it is taken away due to the withdrawal component. You want to break the cycle without causing a rift in the family.

Sue: What should parents do to break that cycle?

Dr. Dave: Before a child can be weaned off the virtual world, it is imperative to strengthen real world experiences. There are other ways to increase dopamine levels, such as sports, academic accomplishments and trying out for plays. Having alternative activities also has the benefit of eating up time which leaves less time for gaming. Of course, parents should limit and monitor use of video games, texting and social networking. Just being more involved in your child’s life will help your child kick the habit.

Brian L. February 25, 2012 at 01:24 PM
Granted that I am a slightly older gamer now (starting with a turbo grafx 16), but I feel that it still comes down to parenting, now and then. It seems as though rather than deal or play with their kids parents let the tv and the gaming take care of that. When I was younger my parents promoted me to be involved in soccer and baseball and being outside. Building a strong interest in those activities kept me wanting more. I played video games, I still do as I am raising my own son. But I plan on keeping those game systems locked away until he has a chance to learn to like being outside with us just as well.
Rainstreet February 25, 2012 at 03:08 PM
Susan I am really starting to come around with your articles. Another good one. I agree with Brian. It does come down to parenting. Just like TV, video games can act as a babysitter. It keeps them occupied so you can just relax or do work. Then, when you see it is a problem, it is usually too late because they are consumed with it, similar to drinking or smoking. It becomes a part of their everyday life. Parents can stop this but they need to put limits on everything. That's why we are parents. I am a teacher and I was appalled when a parent of one of my students let him stay home from school because a video game was coming out. It did not matter that the student was getting a D because he was not doing his homework. I blame the parent 100%. Over the years, I have learned how not to act as a parent based on the lack of parenting of my students parents.
Mark February 25, 2012 at 06:09 PM
I agree parents may or may not let their child play video games. Unfortunately, the kid's finds ways around it. Weather its going to gaming centers to get their fix or their friends house. Like Dr.Dave said, it is an addiction. Simply accepting that they play video games and even participate with them to get on their level will result in cooperation. Would you rather listen to some that relates with you or someone that engages in acts to break your habits?
Brian L. February 26, 2012 at 12:05 AM
Fair enough. I was speaking more to the ways I'll try to prevent it as a gamer and new parent. Try and nip it early and go the right way from there. Once it becomes an addiction that speaks much more to what you are saying. Again, speaking as a gamer there were nights when I used to stay up until 4 or 5 and not even realize it. These games now suck you in completely and act as a social outlet as well now that you can talk and play online with friends and randoms. I totally agree with the article about it being a real addiction and trying to break it or mend it appropriately .

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