Monday, April 14, 2008

The World Of Game Addiction

What is addiction?

In lay terms, to understand addiction, it is useful to make this comparison: Passion versus Addiction.

Passion draws you to something; it increases the value of activities in your life; it increases your energy, your motivation, your creativity. You feel expanded, revitalized, and passionate. Addiction takes away from your life; it reduces your motivation to do things outside of the one activity. The hallmark of an addiction is that it takes away from your life. It makes you feel compulsively involved. You feel a compulsive desire to move towards that thing, where compulsion is being driven by some external thing rather than being driven by something internal; by your own internal creativity.

In strict technical or medical terms, scientists differentiate between:

A. Excessive use of something;

B. Dependence on something, behavior dependence, when you continue to do something despite external factors that tell you it’s wrong. “My wife keeps yelling at me to stop and I know it is bad but I don’t stop.” “My grades keep falling but I keep doing it.” “I’ve missed work 3 times this week but I’ve done it.”

C. Addiction to something, which is supposed to be physiological; cocaine is addictive because over time my body begins to crave cocaine whether or not mentally or psychologically I actually want the cocaine. Things labeled as addictive should have the physiological component. The opinion is that this is where the whole idea of computers being addictive becomes problematic.

Parental Ignorance: No Longer Bliss

As the world of video games continues to evolve, parents are falling behind. As we found last year, this year’s parental survey uncovered an alarming gap between what kids say about the role of video games in their lives and what parents are willing to admit. For instance, while nearly two-thirds of surveyed parents said they had rules about how much time their children may spend playing video games, only one third of their children said they had such rules. Perhaps parents are reluctant to confess how little they attempt to control the amount of time their kids spend in front of the screen. This much is certain: too many of us do not seem to exercise enough control. The amount of time kids spend playing video games is on the rise.

First and foremost, parents need to pay attention to the relevant research and the industry needs to stop denying research-based conclusions.

  • Who’s playing? While the industry constantly reports that the average age of the player has risen to the late twenties, a new study has found almost half of all “heavy gamers,” are six- to 17-years-old (NPD, 2006).

  • Game time and physical health. Our own research this year found children who spend more time playing video games are heavier, and are more likely to be classified as overweight or obese. Furthermore, playing video games in the bedroom is an added risk factor for overweight and obesity.

  • Screen time and school performance. We found the amount of time kids spend playing video games is correlated with poorer grades in school and attention problems.

  • Violent video games and aggression. Scientific research shows that violent video game play increases aggression in young players in the short term. Additional studies show these effects last.

Once parents realize what is at stake, based on scientific research, they should start limiting game time and keeping M-rated games away from their children. Although the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) rating system seems to underrate some games, giving Teen ratings to games that deserve Mature ratings, all agree that the Mrated games are inappropriate for kids.

Parents should also take advantage of new technological tools to protect their kids. For instance, most new consoles include parental controls. Parents should learn how to use these devices and use them to set appropriate boundaries for their children. Additionally, some video game makers are focusing on kid-friendly games and technologies. The Nintendo DS, for example has gained a reputation as a “clean console” because of the vast number of E-rated games it supports, and Microsoft is said to be investing heavily in E and E 10+ games.

Parents also need to understand the changing purchasing patterns of their children. While the bricks-and-mortar retailers have made important improvements in keeping Mature games out of the hands of kids, online sales now account for a growing number of total sales. That means any child with an Internet connection and a debit, credit or magnetic striped gift card could purchase a Mature- or Adults Only-rated game.

Finally, and most importantly, we encourage parents once again to be MediaWise® and to Watch What Your Kids Watch. Limits and boundaries are crucial, but simply laying down rules and hoping kids will follow them is not enough. Parents need to engage in an ongoing dialog with their children about what games they are playing and for how long. Watching what your kids watch might mean playing what your kids play. Creating a conversation about content and amount won’t just protect kids – it will help parents reinforce meaningful communication with their children.