Video Game Addiction: Mental Disorder?
Compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal; broadly: persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful (1).
The definition, taken from Merriam-Webster, cites that addiction is a chronic condition caused by a drug that alters the chemical components of the brain. However, the definition does not mention video games as a source of addiction. I believe video game addiction (VGA) exhibits similar effects as drug addiction without the consumption of substances. As a gamer myself, a person who plays video games, I have experienced many of the symptoms such as mental dependence, and irrepressible cravings to play video games. Some doctors will argue that my condition is not labeled as an addiction, but rather compulsive playing. In the American Medical Association’s (AMA) annual meeting, they discussed if VGA was considered a mental-disorder and whether it should be listed under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)-IV (2). They came to the conclusion that until further research is done, VGA will not be considered a mental disorder that needs medical attention and thus does not fall under the true category of addiction.
Dr. Michael Brody, head of a TV and media committee at the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, agrees with the AMA’s decision. He believes VGA can be symptoms of other disorders such as depression or social anxiety, which are listed in DSM-IV (3). He argues that this addictive behavior can fall under the same category as obsessive cell phone or Blackberry use (3). An ongoing poll taken by MSNBC asked whether people believed VGA was a mental disorder. Of the 13298 votes, 60% of the voters believed that VGA was no more an illness than addiction to movies or books, 36% of voters considered VGA just as addictive as drugs or alcohol and 4% were unsure(4). It is not surprising that the majority of people believe VGA is not a mental disorder because video games have only been present for about 50 years where as many other mental disorders have been recorded for centuries. Therefore it is hard for people to understand where VGA comes from. Their lack of experience causes people to label video games as simply a hobby that consumes too much time.
Despite popular opinion, other doctors, particularly psychiatrists, believe VGA is a mental disorder and needs to be treated as a disease. Dr. Karen Pierce, a psychiatrist at Chicago's Children's Memorial Hospital, believes that VGA should be diagnosed as an addiction and doctors should not search for a different diagnosis (3). One of her patients suffered from lack of sleep and poor hygiene because of his video game addiction (3). Other addicts displayed aggressive behavior and excessive profanity when video games were taken away from them. Finally, some video game addicted teenagers have been known to take their parents’ credit card to buy in-game currency (5). These symptoms are very similar to those exhibited by drug and alcohol addicts (3).
According to Shavaun Scott, a psychotherapist, a video game addict has two lives, primary and secondary life (5). Primary life is reality, the world we live in. Secondary life is the virtual world in which they play in. Dr. Scott states that problems arise when the addicts are so engrossed in the secondary life that they neglect responsibilities in their primary life. People who have severe VGA not only affect themselves, but also their friends and family. This is where VGA draws a parallel to drug addiction. Drug addicts’ secondary life, though not a virtual world, is an isolated place in which they buy and use drugs. Drug and video game addicts become so absorbed in the secondary life that it becomes their primary life. The addicts become destructive when they do not have their drug or video game, and families can only watch the digression of their loved ones. This is a major difference that separates VGA from other crazes such as cell phone users. The primary life of a compulsive cell phone user is not as affected by his addiction to the point where his primary lives mirrors his secondary life. Cell phone users are still connected to their friends and family. They have contact with people they know and are not trapped in a fantasy world. Although it may increase the phone bill and initiate argument in a household, it does not replace one’s primary life.
Recent studies done in Stanford University showed that males are susceptible to becoming hooked on video games (6). Researchers found that the brain’s mesocorticolimbic center, generally associated with reward and addiction, is activated when the subjects were asked to play a computer game that involved clicking on circles before they reached the opposite side of the screen (6). Many new computer games have reward systems where the gamers are constantly rewarded and at greater degrees each time they accomplish a task (5). Males have a greater tendency to strive to obtain that reward and in return have a greater satisfaction when they receive it. The pleasure they receive is what causes gamers to become addicted. The Stanford study provides evidence that video games can lead to addition because of the ecstasy of being rewarded.
Currently, VGA is still not considered a mental disorder in the DSM-IV. Several doctors who have seen the effects of VGA believe that it should be diagnosed as an illness and not a symptom. However, medical experts in the 2007 AMA meeting said that there is not enough research and evidence to make that conclusion. It has been several months since that meeting and already new research done at Stanford University supports the idea that video games have addictive qualities. I believe the definition of addiction is out-dated and should be modified to account for the disorders that come with new technology. In 2012, the AMA will republish the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Hopefully, for the sake of video gamers, enough research will be done in the next four years to acquire enough evidence to identify VGA as a mental disorder.
1) http:// www.webster.com; accessed February 25, 2008
2) AMA CSAPH Report 12-A-07, AMA Website, http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/category/17694.html, accessed February 25, 2008
3) Tanner, Lindsey. Is video-game addiction a mental disorder? MSNBC article, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19354827/, accessed February 25, 2008
4) Poll: Is video-game addiction a mental disorder? MSNBC poll, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19358866/, accessed February 25, 2008
5) Interview with Shavaun Scott, Youtube, http://youtube.com/watch?v=8U1T9ZumALk&feature=related, accessed February 25, 2008
6) Brandt, Michelle. Video games activate reward regions of brain in men more than women, Stanford study finds. Stanford Med website, http://med.stanford.edu/news_releases/2008/february/videobrain.html February 8 2008, accessed February 25, 2008