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Video Game Addiction is Now Being Recognized—What Happens Next?

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A gaming addict.

Scientists are trying to make sense of the psychological effects of video games.

Credit: Getty Images

Like millions of kids in the 1980s, Scott Jennings played video games. Sometimes he'd play a little too much, filling up an afternoon with short bouts of Pac-Man or Space Invaders. He grew out of his childhood hobby when he went to college and didn't play for another 10 years. After graduation he landed a job as a software developer and was doing pretty well.

But his drinking started spiraling out of control. When he began to drink in the morning, it scared him so much that he found help. He entered Alcoholics Anonymous and got sober.

For five or six years life was good. He learned to live with his illness, abstaining from alcohol completely. He stayed away from activities that he thought could be addictive. A friend who liked to go to casinos would invite him along, but Jennings always turned him down. "I didn't want to play with fire, you know?" he says. "But I'd never heard of gaming addiction."

He started playing video games again. At first it was just now and then. But when he went through a tough patch, he found that games helped him deal with stress and anxiety. He was terrified of falling back into addiction. "I didn't want to touch alcohol. I knew what a disaster it would be if I started drinking again," he says. "So I used games to cope."

The warning signs were all there. Behaviors from his drinking days were back. He grew obsessive, thinking about games all the time. He played when he should have been sleeping. He'd intend a five-minute break from work and play for two hours.

He knew he was gaming too much and hid it. If people asked him what he'd done that day, he would make something up rather than admit that he'd played four or five hours straight. "So yeah, I was seeing the red flags," he says. "But I wasn't that worried about it."

In the first few years of recovery it is normal for people to find substitute obsessions. Jennings watched a lot of TV, spent many hours in online chat rooms, binged on pornography and Ben & Jerry's ice cream. "All these escapist, numbing behaviors were temporary crutches," he says. He figured gaming was another: "I thought I would burn out on it after a while and give it up, but it didn't turn out like that at all."


From Technology Review
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