ADDICTION TO THE VIRTUAL WORLD

Addiction is a compulsive physiological and psychological need for a substance or practice.  Addiction is connected to the release of dopamine hormone neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centers.  There are addictions to substances such as nicotine or drugs, and there are addictions to activities such as computer games.  In both cases, the brain's reward mechanism is strengthened, causing the repeated use of the substance or repeated activity with progressively increasing intensity.

There is no consensus in the field of psychiatry on how to address the phenomenon of Internet addiction; is it a physiological dependence, such as with substance abuse, or not?  All agree, however, that there is a situation of real dependence in the virtual world.An addiction to the Internet or multimedia is usually to a particular topic or area, such as an addiction to games, chats, social networks, video and movie channels, or to sexual or pornographic content.

Video Game Addiction is the compulsive use of a computer or video games. Online gaming addiction has developed a negative image and is rapidly becoming a concern of the public. An effort in May 2013 to get the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to include suggested criteria for video game addiction in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual found that there currently is insufficient evidence to qualify it as an official mental disorder.

How to Recognize Addiction

An Internet addict usually tries to hide an addiction, but there are behavioral and mental indicators of addiction, such as progressively increasing surfing time, an inability to disengage, nervousness, stress (when someone stops the addict's surfing activity), surfing online at unusual hours, a decrease in eating and sleeping, and more.  The following list composed by experts contains some of the indicators when an addiction is suspected:

  • Loss of interest in socialization
  • Physical neglect
  • Reduction in eating, or overeating
  • Neglect of personal hygiene
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of sleep, and red eyes
  • Lost sense of time
  • Irritability or violence

Most addicts struggle with their addiction to the point of a total loss of control.  An addiction disrupts the course of everyday life at school, work, and one's relationships and social life.  Addiction is like an illness that is difficult to handle on one's own.  Be sure to convey empathy and support the child's efforts to combat the addiction.  If you suspect your child is heavily addicted, seek immediate professional help and guidance.  If it is a light addiction, and even a legitimate one such as to a positive video game, construct an action plan, together with the child, to gradually reduce the hours of play.

Possibly the juiciest part of the video game is the ability to act out the fantasy of being the hero. Skyrim is a great example of this. The player hears over and over that they are the only one who can save the world from the coming doom. The hundreds of “side quests” available to the player help them choose which types of skills they want to enhance, allowing their character to develop a distinct personality in the game. Even though the main character often has to go through certain actions for the story to continue, the hero feels more real because their skill and achievements have been molded and directed by their own hand as much as or more than the creator of the story.

While the media often spouts this as an epidemic, many studies have shown that the number of gamers addicted is relatively small.  On top of that, reports have shown that these numbers vary quite a bit depending on the various parameters used to define what internet gaming addiction actually is.  What we do know is that addiction is not a black or white issue. Some individuals may show mild dependency while others show heavy dependency. The risks shown here could apply at least minimally to any gamer, online or offline. The issues raised here should cause concern or at least curiosity for how virtual realities hook us, and what that says about our life values.

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