Video Games are Not Addictive After All

Most of you probably know what I think about the so called “video game addiction”. If you don’t (and you are to lazy to click on that link that I just posted) I will summarize it here: it is plain old FUD and pseudo-psychological quackery. Even though IANAP I always said that obsessive gaming is a symptom of a more serious problem, not a problem in itself. But not all people share this belief.

Quite a few people seriously believe that you can get addicted to video games the same way you get addicted to crack. It sounds ridiculous when I say it like that, but bunch of real psychologists did stake their careers on this theorem. Some time back in 2006 bunch of these people actually opened a clinic in Amsterdam for treating young people afflicted by video game addiction. That place still exists and it is called Smith & Jones Center and they have been working with video game addicts ever since.

After over two years of working with young obsessive gamers, and analyzing their results, treatment strategies and case studies they realized something that quite surprised them. Over 90% of their patients were not actually addicted.

From the article:

Using traditional abstinence-based treatment models the clinic has had very high success rates treating people who also show other addictive behaviours such as drug taking and excessive drinking.

But Mr Bakker believes that this kind of cross-addiction affects only 10% of gamers. For the other 90% who may spend four hours a day or more playing games such as World of Warcraft, he no longer thinks addiction counselling is the way to treat these people.

“These kids come in showing some kind of symptoms that are similar to other addictions and chemical dependencies,” he says.

“But the more we work with these kids the less I believe we can call this addiction. What many of these kids need is their parents and their school teachers – this is a social problem.”

In response the clinic has changed its treatment programme for gamers to focus more on developing activity-based social and communications skills to help them rejoin society.

Only people who were already prone to addictive behaviors and already developed alcohol/drug dependency could be classified as video game addicts. Other patients turned out to have deeper underlying problems that drove them to obsessive gaming. Which is what I have been saying all along. Didn’t I say it?


And I’m not even a Psychologist. It was common fucking sense! But then again common sense is so rare these days we should really re-name it to un-common sense.

Not surprisingly, most of the young men treated at the clinic were actually hooked on the social aspect of online games. That’s where they sought support and acceptance:

“This gaming problem is a result of the society we live in today,” Mr Bakker told BBC News. “Eighty per cent of the young people we see have been bullied at school and feel isolated. Many of the symptoms they have can be solved by going back to good old fashioned communication.

By offering compulsive gamers a place where they feel accepted and where their voice will be heard, the clinic has found that the vast majority have been able to leave gaming behind and rebuild their lives.

Let me put this into perspective for you. I’m pretty sure most of my readers are familiar with online gaming culture. Would you seek meaningful relationships and social acceptance and/or support in the Barrens Chat or on some CoD server where “U R ALL FAGS!” is considered a tame and rather polite greeting? You have to imagine how badly someones real life must suck if they choose to socialize in places like that. Yes, these guys need help – but detox is not the right treatment here. They need counseling and/or group therapy or something among these lines. They need a social support system. Hell, I’d even venture a guess that once their social problems get resolved most of these people could easily return to gaming on casual basis without the danger of relapsing.

I especially liked the closing words of that article, so I’m going to quote them here:

Mr Bakker sees a time when addiction centres like Smith & Jones could close down if parents and adults in the community took more responsibility for the habits of their children.

“In most cases of compulsive gaming, it is not addiction and in that case, the solution lies elsewhere.”

Yup! Amen to that! As with many other problems, the best solution here is to educate parents, teachers and community leaders about these things. Video games are an easy target – you can make them a scapegoat and blame them for your child’s problems. But as it turns out, they are relatively harmless. If your kid is playing WoW for 12 hours it is not because Blizzard made an addictive or psychologically destructive game. It is likely your fucking fault. Take some fucking interest in your kids life and talk with him. Ask about his problems. Make sure that at least at home these kids are getting the support and acceptance they need, so they don’t have to seek them in online gaming communities.

I officially consider this topic closed. Conclusively I might add. The very people who came up with the idea of opening a video game addiction clinic have admitted they were wrong. Not only that, but they said that obsessive gaming is a social problem can be effectively eliminated or snipped at the bud by attentive parents willing to put effort into communicating with their kids. If the addiction bullshit comes up again in the future, I’m just going to link back to this post.

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6 Responses to Video Games are Not Addictive After All

  1. Alphast NETHERLANDS Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Lol. I had never realized that it was in my own backyard, so to speak. Dutch are such nutters sometimes…
    This said, don’t think the theory is going to go away or anything. The morons here still have whole TV programs dedicated to this very important issue. I mean, let’s face it, video game addiction is the most important problem in the Dutch society! The medical social security system is crumbling, the society is polarizing against our millions of migrant workers and the financial crisis might make the country face its worse unemployment crisis in the last 25 years. Yet, it’s all video games, my friends!

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  2. Adam Kahtava CANADA Google Chrome Windows says:

    I was once asked if I was a “gamer” during an interview. Apparently they bought into the games are addicting mentality and didn’t want gamers – they felt gamers were a liability and less productive?

    I should forward this article to their HR department. :) Great post.

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  3. vacri AUSTRALIA Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    It was common fucking sense! But then again common sense is so rare these days we should really re-name it to un-common sense.

    Be careful about that. Common sense, while not common enough, isn’t always right. Especially in psychology. Things “everyone knows” and that “just stand to reason” often don’t when you look at them in more detail. How many times when you code have you assumed a command would clearly, obviously do one thing, but then you spend an hour looking it up as it proceeds to do something completely unexpected?

    Essentially, it looks like these people have done good science – proposed a hypothesis, tried it out, and reported on success or failure. You should be encouraging people to do this, not mocking them for trying in the first place. It is just this thing – condemnation of failed hypotheses – that hurts scientists as they become afraid to try things and report failure, instead choosing to either falsify data or not even try in the first place.

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  4. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @vacri: @vacri: You have a point there. I’m actually glad they did this, because we now have a conclusive evidence that their hypothesis was wrong.

    I guess my anger was slightly misplaced. I’m really annoyed at the media coverage this clinic was getting. It is a stupid sensationalism. These guys open a clinic to help people who obviously have some personal problems and the journalist covering the story frames it so that it looks like “ZOMG, video games your children are playing are more addictive than crack!!!1ONE!”

    But I’m not sure whether this classifies as good science. I don’t know… Maybe. But I’d prefer if they set out with a hypothesis and proceeded to rigorously test it before they opened a clinic, got funding, and went to the media. You know, like a long term double blind study with a control group and etc…

    From what I read this is not what they did. They opened the clinic and said “We know video games are addictive and we will provide detox and rehab – now give us your money”. Then in the last few years they noticed that their assumptions and methods are faulty. They were like “oops, we have been treating all these people wrong” and so they decided to make a press release in managed PR damage control mode before someone looks at their results and calls them on it.

    So meh… But I get what you say an I agree. It is just that often it’s hard not to take things like this personal. I love video games, and play them regularly. So do my friends and family. I interact with other games both IRL and online and I have never actually met or talked with anyone who I would consider “addicted” or “obsessive” gamer. And all the people with gaming problem I have seen interviewed the media had always admitted to multitude of other pathologies or problems such as depression, axienty, bipolar disorder, abuse at home/school, other addictions and etc.

    So simple observation tells me that the main difference between the healthy gamers and obsessive gamers that I know of, is that the later suffer from additional psychological ailments.

    But they you get someone who does not play video games, and who does not usually interact with healthy video gamers on a day-to-day basis. Or rather they do, but they just don’t know about it. The only gamers they interact with are their patients with severe gaming related issues and fixations. I can see how such an outsider could make a hypothesis about harmfulness of video games, but I think I’m safe to say that doing this is wrong. Is it good science to base your hypothesis on a very small sample of what unbeknown to you are very special subsection of a much larger population?

    If they only bothered to do a little research, they would probably notice the same thing as me and could re-define their theory. But they did not, and it took them two years to reach this conclusion. That’s sort of what I found annoying in this whole thing.

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  5. Mack UNITED KINGDOM Safari Mac OS says:

    Ramen to that

    Vacri: Playing a videogame does not involve ingesting a substance which could be chemically addictive. Ergo, I’m with Luke here on “Common Sense” grounds.

    It’s not good science because it’s based on the flawed idea that mental stimulation by videogame is going to have the same “Addictive” properties as an addictive substance. One might as well assume that, say, crossword puzzles are “Addictive”. Or watching TV. etc.

    I don’t see anyone going on about how books or comics are “Addictive”. If somone spends time reading fiction alone it’s regarded as a socially healthy and productive activity. However, if the same person then spends time alone playing a videogame in a Single Player Story, it’s regarded as a social evil akin to teenagers taking crack. Total logic failure

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  6. allan PHILIPPINES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    i told my mom. she said that was insane.
    now i wonder who’s the misunderstood one

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