Addiction and Video Games

So, NPR has published an article about people addicted to gaming called “When Playing Video Games Means Sitting on Life’s Sidelines.”  It is a fascinating piece, if by fascinating you mean terrible.  No really.  The article is terrible.  Somewhere in there, if you take a hatchet and cut away the horrible parts, you get a typical article about addicts and the trials and tribulations they go through, trying to deal with their issues.  You just have to wade through the mountain of garbage that every discussion of gaming and the gaming community evokes in a mass media outlet.

So, these people in the article are all addicted to video games.  Rachel Martin of NPR takes aim and really hits it out of the park on all the typical gamer stereotypes that can come into play in this kind of scenario.  All the people she discusses are male video game players, avoiding personal relationships, running marathon gaming sessions, engaging in online relationships that aren’t “real,” and my personal favorite, have poor hygiene.

Now let me be clear for a moment here.  I am in no way, being critical of people suffering from addiction.  I’ve seen it, I’ve lived with it.  I know it’s real, and I know it can be crippling.  And if these people found help for their addictions in this reSTART program or some similar program, then I’m very glad for them.  But I have a lot of issues with the way this article portrays these addicts and this program specifically.

For starters this program treats “technology addiction” in an extreme manner.  The second phase of the program was referred to as Level 2, until the administrators of the program realized that the name had a gaming connotation and then changed it.  I wonder if they removed mushrooms from the menu on-site at the facility, for fear that the patients might try to use them to grow to giant size.  Let’s hope they never get to the garden for their fire flowers, I doubt the fire department could stop them in time.

More seriously though, patients are cut off from the internet and all forms of computer interaction.  One of the recovering addicts quoted in the article, mentions how difficult this can be.  I really think it’s worth a closer look.  By enforcing strict limits on what and how much technology these patients can use, are they really producing functional adults, which is what any program like this should be striving for?  Given technology’s ubiquity, is it healthy to force recovering addicts to use no technology at all in any way?  How do they communicate with family?  How do they search for jobs?  How would they go to school without a computer in this age?  NPR didn’t really seem all that interested in examining the negative side effects the program seemed to be capable of.

NPR also didn’t spend much time talking about how Joey M’Poko, one of the patients highlighted in the article, had a drug addiction before he had a video game addiction.  There was no discussion about a possible link between the two, or whether or not the addictive behavior was a side effect of other issues in his life.  But that might have undermined the point of the article so I can see why helping to perpetuate an informed discussion about the nature of addiction might be a counter to NPR’s mission.

But we certainly need an informed discussion about the nature of addiction.  One of my big problems with these kinds of articles, is how little attention is paid to the fact that only certain types of addictions in society are worth getting rehab and treatment over.  You don’t hear of people going to rehab for Facebook addiction, or exercise addiction, or prescription drug addiction, or Jesus addiction.  Only certain things in society get thrown up as red flags.  Other types of addictions get excused, or we’re told that those aren’t really addictions.  But video games, drugs, alcohol, those are totally a problem and need a host of options for dealing with.

And again, I’m not trying to diminish or dismiss the rather destructive and damaging results that can occur from those addictions.  Far from it, I’m a huge believer in therapy and treatment for people who need help with these issues.  But it seems to me, only certain patterns rise to the level of being a problem, and this has a lot more to do with society’s choices rather then the actual behaviors themselves.  It’s worth discussing more, but I don’t see any other places that are having it right now, online or off.  And only very rarely do we ever see a discussion on the nature of addiction and how to deal with it.

Fortunately as is sometimes the case in these situations, the comments section managed to really fill in and provide some of this discussion all on it’s own.  My favorite comment came from Ken Stofft who wrote:

“I am a recovering alcoholic.  Now sober for 18 years!  Whatever the substance, it’s just the symptom of an underlying issue.  Once the addiction takes hold, yes, it needs to be addressed by withdrawal from whatever the substance is.  But, the work just begins with that withdrawal.  Sobriety only occurs when the life issues that led to the addiction are addressed and life is reclaimed in balance…..Underlying the addictive process is the lack of ability or skill to deal with life and the consequent emotions!  The bottom line is to learn, for me, how best to love myself, all of myself”

A powerful statement, and one that I think gets to the heart of how we should be treating addiction.  It’s a problem that needs treatment, but is ultimately just a symptom of an underlying issue that if not addressed, will rear it’s head in other ways later on.  Most life long addicts are people who have been trapped with poor support systems all their lives (in one form or another), and are unable to figure out on their own how to escape their abusive situations.  They deserve our compassion and our help.

It would be nice though if we could have more discussions like this, rather then spending our time debunking the demonizing of a whole sub-culture of people.  I look forward to the day when we gamers grow so large, everyone will be plugged into the matrix.  Then we’ll see how those gaming haters feel after I gank them over and over and over again in our 50 hour marathon session!

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