Fair Game?

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Fair Game?

Postby Oylpann » Fri Nov 03, 2006 1:17 pm

http://www.philly.com

For some fans of online interactive play, entertainment can become a dangerous addiction - one that may need treatment.

By Adam Fifield

Inquirer Staff Writer


There are other worlds out there - violent, virtual domains where residents hurl lightning bolts at giant, dog-headed beasts and wield glittering swords during heroic quests that make the real world pale.

Online interactive role-playing games such as EverQuest and World of Warcraft draw millions into their byzantine realms and complex social orders. Some become so enthralled that mental-health professionals are seeing patients who play as much as 70 hours a week, neglecting school, work, even marriage.

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What is an innocuous passion for many players is coming under increased scrutiny by therapists, and even gamers, as a potentially dangerous addiction.

Maressa Hecht Orzack, director of the Computer Addiction Studies Center at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., hears from five or six people a day looking for treatment or information related to obsessive online game-playing.

They are "so used to living in a virtual world, they don't know how to connect" in real life, said Orzack, who is on the faculty at Harvard Medical School. "I've seen more and more people who are so involved in this that they can't put it down."

"It was really ruining my life," Bryan, 25, of Washington Township, said of his self-described addiction to World of Warcraft, the industry's top-selling "massively multiplayer online role-playing game."

MMORPGs, as they are known in the industry, are the parallel universe of gaming. Individually or in teams, participants adopt characters and interact via the Internet, often in battle. Players in guilds, which allow people worldwide to take part simultaneously in real time, keep rigorous game schedules.

Bryan quit playing Warcraft in September and fears a relapse. He worries what his coworkers at a bank might think of his compulsion and requested that his full name not be revealed.

For more than a year, Bryan devoted nearly 60 hours a week to the game. He gave up a job, lost touch with friends, dropped out of a professional choral group, and developed carpal tunnel syndrome - all to pursue his missions in Warcraft's land of Azeroth.

It wasn't fun anymore, said Bryan, who got off at 11 p.m. and played until dawn to keep from disapppointing his guild. "It definitely became a job."

Not everyone into Warcraft, EverQuest and other MMORPGs neglects his or her life. Those most susceptible have preexisting problems, such as depression or anxiety disorders, therapists say.

Temple University psychology professor Donald A. Hantula said he believed the medium was not to blame for dysfunctional behavior by its users.

"I know people who spend 40 or 50 hours a week playing golf," said Hantula, who is executive editor of the Journal of Social Psychology.

But Warcraft has an "addictive dynamic" that probably isn't accidental, said Kate Bennett, 32, a mental-health counselor from Pottstown who is an avid player.

"In the very beginning, the rewards come very fast and easy," she said. Eventually, they get "fewer and farther apart... but by then you're hooked on that feeling of accomplishment."

Players can be seduced by a feeling of belonging and status within the group that they do not have in life. Perhaps the most powerful pull is that the games have no end.

"The missions and quests go on forever," said psychiatrist Samuel L. Sharmat, a New York addiction specialist who treats patients with online gaming problems. "It's like having an unlimited amount of cocaine."

Many dedicated players think talk of addiction is overblown.

"I play a video game and interact with people instead of watching TV," said Robert Schneider, 29, a software developer and Warcraft player from Stevens, Lancaster County.

Schneider and his wife, Jamie, usually play when their 16-month-old daughter is asleep. They each put in about 20 hours a week - 12 hours less than the average American spends watching TV, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Schneider knows many players, and they all "can manage their time, their family, fine."

Online game addiction isn't recognized as a disorder by the American Psychiatric Association, though an official with the group said it could be considered a behavioral addiction.

Sharmat believes that obsessive game playing is a physical addiction. People aren't hooked on the games, he said. They are hooked on chemicals the games trigger in their brains.

Teens are especially at risk of retreating into games, said Susan Rosenbaum, a Doylestown psychiatrist. For them, "the brain is evolving. It's not a stable configuration," she said.

"Some of the characters from these games inhabit an adolescent's mind, they colonize it. For that kid, [the game] becomes his real life," she said.

Psychologist Mike Bradley of Feasterville says he has teenage clients who survive on three or four hours of sleep at night. Some, he said, misuse medication prescribed for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder to stay in the game.

Relatively obscure in the late 1990s, MMORPGs are now a fast-growing segment of the game industry. Players purchase software, then pay a monthly fee. Warcraft, the biggest seller, was launched in 2004 and has more than seven million accounts worldwide.

In a study this year, Nielsen Interactive Entertainment found that more than half of the estimated 117 million U.S. gamers play online. Of those, 15 million are involved in MMORPGs.

Other statistics about online role-playing games are scant. According to a survey of MMORPG players conducted since 1999 by Nick Yee, a Stanford University graduate student, the average age of players is 26, 85 percent are men and 36 percent are married.

In 2004, Yee asked MMORPG players if they were "addicted." Of 2,218 respondents, about 14 percent answered "definitely" and 27 percent said "probably." But, Yee cautioned, many use the term loosely.

Despite "potential pitfalls," the games do foster relationships between players of racial, class, religious and age groups who may not interact in real life, said Dmitri Williams, a professor of speech communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who has studied MMORPGs.

Paul Sams, chief operating officer for Blizzard Entertainment, which manufactures Warcraft, said in a written statement that the game is benign.

"Our games are designed to be fun and compelling" like a TV show or book, Sams said.

It's up to the individual, "or his or her parent or guardian," he said, "to determine how long he or she should spend playing."

Warcraft - which carries an industry rating of "teen" (appropriate for users 13 and older) for blood, alcohol use, suggestive themes and violence - has a feature that allows parents to limit usage, Sams added.

It wasn't her kids' playing that troubled Pam Gomes, of Ware, Mass. In 2000, the mother of three was despondent over financial difficulties. She got hooked on Dark Age of Camelot, sinking 12 hours a day into the MMORPG.

"I couldn't pull myself away," said Gomes, 36.

In 2005, her husband asked for a divorce. That's when Gomes stumbled on the Web site for Online Gamers Anonymous. She followed its Alcoholics Anonymous-style program and, after 30 days, was finally free.

Liz Woolley founded the site in 2002 after her son Shawn committed suicide as EverQuest played on his computer screen.

After the 21-year-old's obsessive videogaming caused him to lose his job and apartment, Woolley placed him in a group home for those with traditional addictions. He was put on medication for depression and schizoid tendencies.

Eventually Shawn got a new place, bought a computer, and "cut off all contact," said Woolley, who has since moved from Wisconsin to Harrisburg.

On Thanksgiving 2001, she found him slumped at his computer, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Woolley believes her son's absorption in the game led to his death.

The Sony Corp., which makes EverQuest, did not return calls for comment but has previously disputed Woolley's contention.

Gamers can find it progressively harder to extract themselves from worlds where the rewards come more easily than they do in life, said Bennett, the counselor and Warcraft player.

Vanquishing a dragon will always be more fun than "fixing a relationship or going back to school and working really hard to get all A's."

For more about online interactive role-playing games and addiction, go to http://go.philly.com/onlinegames



Now dont get me wrong, because I've posted a few of these articles, dont think I'm against video games. I still play them, just not as much as I used too, and I tend to stay away from MMO's because they are too time consuming for myself and you cant really just stop to do whatever you need to do at the spur of the moment if your raiding or something. :lol:

I just think its an interesting deliema thats seeing alot more press lately. :wink:
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