Looks like people across the Pond are starting to take gaming more seroiusly than we thought. Therapists in the UK have been preaching the dangers of game addiction with the unprecedented global success of Activision Blizzard's World of Warcraft. With another expansion on the way, that MMO obviously isn't slowing down.
And the problem isn't restricted to WoW either -- it simply represents the problem best. According to specialists, people are suffering socially and physically from being glued to their computer monitors for days at a time. So Britain is getting its first game addiction rehab program at the Broadway Lodge, a residential rehabilitation center that already takes care of 400 or so alcoholics, drug addicts, and gamblers.
Utilizing the widely-used 12-Step Minnesota Method approach to addiction, the clinic will use group therapy, tapes, videos, therapeutic tasks (vacuuming, washing, etc.) and recreational activities to help their clients. It's mostly about peer-to-peer support, according to the clinic.
The center's chief executive Brian Dudley remembers a couple bringing in their 23-year-old son after he began spending up to eight hours at a time with his PC, presumably gaming. According to Dudley, the young man was successfully rehabilitated with the 12-step abstinence program and began eating properly and living normally again.
Overall, he believes the approach to game addiction needs to be different, as opposed to traditional methods used for drugs and alcohol.
"Obviously this is the very early stages of researching how many youngsters are affected. But I would stick my neck out and say between five and ten per cent of parents or partners would say they know of someone addicted to an online game.
However, you can't simply say to a 23-year-old male 'you should never use the internet again'. It's just not practical.
So we go through all the issues surrounding gaming use and ensure there are triggers through which an addict recognises their usage has become a problem. Behavioural shifts include users becoming agressive, with chaotic lifestyles that result in irregular eating and sleeping patterns as well as social exclusion.
I don't know anybody else who is treating such cases in this country. There's no helpline.''
Peter Smith, a councelor at Broadway Lodge, notes online games are easy to become addicted to because they allow players to associate with people around the world, resulting in odd play hours. As a result, players form relationships with characters in-game, giving them an "artificial feeling, created by [the] body's natural endorphins" -- particularly when the player achieves something like winning a piece of epic gear, killing a high-level boss, or solving any other in-game problem.
On the flip side, the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association (like the ESA in the U.S.) still claims that online games do not lead to addiction.
''Playing video games is becoming increasingly mainstream in the UK," said director general Michael Rawlinson, "And we firmly believe in the positive impact playing games can have.''