Addiction to video games isn’t child’s play

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The American Medical Association, on June 27, declined to add “Internet/video game addiction” to the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders, which would have elevated the suspected disorder to a malady with professional acceptance, and a formal diagnosis.

The association asked for more study on the topic, and a review of how video games are rated. The next opportunity for inclusion comes in 2012, when the next edition of the “DSM” is released, by which physicians and psychiatrists should have had plenty of time to research.

It’s a critical investigation, as the phenomenon of video gaming has evolved to captivate an adult audience. Games are bigger, badder and bawdier than ever before, and consoles – such as the Nintendo Wii – are blurring real and artificial realities by making users physically part of the game.

And it’s no longer child’s play. The average gamer is age 33, according to the Entertainment Software Association, and spends an average of seven or eight hours playing games per week (as well as many other non-virtual activities, the ESA states). So, the traditional pleas for parents to hit the off switch and shoo junior outside aren’t fully accurate, although it certainly is video game impact on children that remains most feared.

“Psychiatrists are concerned about the well-being of children who spend so much time with video games that they fail to develop friendships, get appropriate outdoor exercise or suffer in their schoolwork,” the American Psychiatric Association said after the AMA’s vote. “Certainly a child who spends an excessive amount of time playing video games maybe exposed to violence and may be at higher risks for behavioral and other health problems.”

Psychologists supportive of classifying video game addiction say “problem gamers” can exhibit traits like compulsive gamblers or alcoholics – shattered family lives, uncontrollable behavior, removal from society, etc. It makes sense that if the symptoms are the same, the afflictions are as well.

And like most legal addictions, the behavior is fine in moderation, but chaotic when it delves into compulsion.

We suspect, by the next edition of the DSM, researchers will have evidence to prove the existence of video game addiction. Experts in other fields, such as economics, are today even espousing the potential for fiscal trends in “synthetic” realities to predict real ones, as users grow more comfortable existing virtually.

“As synthetic worlds grow in importance, scholars, legal analysts, and game industry experts will be under increasing pressure to generate sensible guidelines,” writes Edward Castronova, an associate professor of telecommunications at Indiana University and video gaming expert, on his Web site.

So will physicians and psychologists, as video game addiction likely becomes undeniable.

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