Quite a few gamers will remember the nights and days where they spent 12, 15 or more hours on an MMORPG like World of Warcraft or EverQuest. But who of them would go as far as call that an addiction? After all, that word hints at decline and misery, which might seem out of place to some, when it refers to prolonged time spent at a computer. However, as MMORPGs continue to become more popular, the worry of games consuming a person’s life to the point that it can be classified as an addiction grows. There have already been several reports of people not only losing their jobs and neglecting their families, but even suffering serious health consequences due to excessive gaming habits.
The media aren’t short on horror stories about online game addictions: According to the BBC, a Korean man collapsed and died after playing Starcraft for more than 50 hours, stopping only for short periods of sleep and bathroom breaks. A 13-year-old boy committed suicide by jumping off a building to honor the heroes in an online game. A 3-month old baby starved to death, after her parents left the house to visit an Internet café and nurture their virtual child.
Addiction to online games, and especially addiction to MMORPGs, is no longer a joke, but a verifiable condition that has left a trail of bodies in its wake.
Video game addiction is not a new phenomenon and has been around for a few decades. However, addiction of this magnitude was a rarity with traditional games, because players often got bored, finished the game and had little interaction with people.
The introduction of MMORPGs changed the rules of gaming and created an atmosphere rife with addiction potential. People that are wallflowers and unable to cope socially in real life can create the perfect avatar to reflect who they wish they could be, according to Nick Yee’s Daedalus Gateway. Someone with low self-esteem, due to insecurities about their looks or weight, can become a muscular and attractive elf.
The virtual world is made up of hundreds of thousands of players, many of which have similar interests. Someone with few friends in his small community can find many others like him in the virtual worlds of MMORPGs.
Like most other addictions, such as drugs and alcohol, there are symptoms both physical and psychological. Physical symptoms include carpel tunnel syndrome from hours of typing, weight loss from skipping meals, dry eyes, back aches and headaches from spending hours sitting and playing, as well as loss of sleep. Psychological symptoms include feelings of euphoria while at the computer, inability to stop or compulsion to play and depression when not at the computer, according to Kimberly Young in her paper Addiction to MMORPGS: Symptoms and Treatment. There’s already a link between online addiction and depression – the social environment of games can worsen the effect significantly for some individuals.
The addiction can soon control a person’s life. He may grow to ignore and neglect his friends and families, become frequently late or absent from his job and lie to his loved ones about his activities. As seen in the above news reports, extreme addiction can go as far as to lead to death from exhaustion and dehydration or suicide.
People unfamiliar with addiction may suggest the easiest treatment for MMORPG addiction would be to simply quit the game and delete the individual’s character. However, the consequences of this approach can easily be counter-productive and cause a significant backlash. In a way, this is sudden death to the person’s (virtual) ego. If the person is somewhat neurotic, it can break their mentality, taking into consideration how long it took to level up and get that avatar. If the person relates to the avatar very tightly due to virtual social acceptance in comparison to the physical world, the negative consequences could go all the way to suicide in some cases.
Think about an addiction such as smoking. People who decide to quit cold turkey often relapse within a week, month or several months later. The same is true for other addictions, including MMORPGs, according to Online Gamers Anonymous that uses a 12-step program to help sufferers of MMORPG addiction.
The first step to treating a MMORPG addiction is to admit that there is a problem. The addict must realize that the game is causing problems in his life and be willing to make a change. Without this simple, but integral step, there is little chance for success.
Once a problem has been realized, the best course of action is a complete psychological assessment by a professional. MMORPG addiction is a symptom of a much larger problem. The player prefers the virtual paradise world of the game to the real world. It’s an escape from reality, which is a common theme for addictions.
One of the major factors that can influence MMORPG addiction is social anxiety. The player finds it easier to make friends and build relationships in the game world than in real life. One of the common treatments for social anxiety disorder in relation to video games is to have the player join a physical role playing game club, such as Dungeons and Dragons, so he can have face-to-face interactions with other players, but still get the fantasy world aspect.
Treatment of MMORPG addiction is similar to the treatment of other addictions, with one major difference. Computers have become a necessary part of life and players cannot be expected to abstain from their use. In this way, MMORPG addiction is similar to food addiction, according to CBS News. With help, the individual can learn to use computers and successfully avoid online gaming.
The World Responds
With addiction rates on the rise, the world has begun to respond to online gaming addiction. Many treatments and counseling centers have developed programs for Internet and gaming addiction. In response to the rash of deaths associated with marathon gaming, game developers have incorporated parental controls to limit the amount of time a person can play and some countries have created standard limits on the amount of consecutive hours a player may indulge.
MMORPG addiction is a prevalent problem among players and, as the gaming worlds become larger and more realistic, it is an issue that will only grow. Luckily, the world has begun to study and understand the mechanism behind the addiction and continues to develop effective treatment.
For more information about Internet and online gaming addiction, visit www.netaddiction.com.