Can You Really Be Addicted to Video Games?

Oct 22, 2019 · 192 comments
Charlotte Morton (Florence MA)
Article barely mentions “whether it’s tabletop”. Is that a problem?
Gretar (Montreal)
I'm a game developer myself, and I cringe when I see numbers like in this article, saying a substantial amount of people spending over three hours a day. I'd love to see citations for some of the more shocking statistics though, like 1-8% of gamers being addicted. That is way too high to be taken at face value.
Brock (SLC)
@Gretar You shouldn't be surprised at all. 3 hours per day is NOTHING to some of these people. I read a comment on a Blizzard forum from a poster who suggested that playing 40 hours per week should not be considered extraordinary. He was being dead serious. When players are playing games as if they were a full-time job, that's a serious issue.
Natasha Schüll (NYC NY)
In 2004, the NYT magazine published a cover story by Gary Rivlin titled “The Tug of the Newfangled Slot Machines" about the devices' addictive design; in 2006, a cover story by Mattathias Schwartz titled "The Hold-'Em Holdup" about a young man's online poker addiction; and in 2012, a cover story by Sam Anderson titled "Just One More Game ... Angry Birds, Farmville and Other Hyperaddictive ‘Stupid Games.’" The newspaper itself has published pieces by Randall Stross (on slots), Natasha Singer (on smartphones), and Noam Scheiber (on Uber) that emphasize the addictive, "gamified" aspects of networked video interfaces. Beyond the NYTs, excellent investigative journalism, books, and documentaries (see Second Skin, 2008) have appeared on the topic of screen-based, computer-mediated addictions. Thus I found the title of this latest cover piece in the Magazine -- "Can You Really Be Addicted to Video Games?" rather deflating and even a bit disingenuous. Would it not have been more interesting to frame the piece by asking what it is about today's video games that makes them such appealing vehicles of escape for young men in contemporary America? That is really what Jabr addresses in this article, and the question of what counts as addiction is distracting.
Natasha (NYC)
@Christian Game scholars distinguish between "narrative" and "ludic" elements of games, and some argue that elements such as plot, character development, and narrative arc are protective against addiction -- as opposed to games that rely on mostly ludic elements (think slot machines and candy crush) that draw players into loops of repeated action, erase a sense of time and space, and isolate them from others. By missing that important distinction, this article misses the aspects of video gaming that are potentially vital, healthy, and in some cases redeeming: social connectivity, world-building and fantasy, adventure quests that involve thinking ahead and working with others.
K Henderson (NYC)
"Video-game addiction afflicts between 1 and 8 percent of gamers, according to estimates published by researchers." 1%-8% is a huge range and that alone is a suspect factoid. My hunch is that actual truly long-term addicted gamers are .5%. The article is interesting but I am not sure the research is substantiated.
Sm (Israel)
Great piece. I teach 10-12th grade and I can see the effect video games has on them. Many teenage boys today vs. when I started teaching in 2001 have difficulty having conversations, being too close to an adult (or another person), and can only socialize through gaming. One of my greatest successes as a teacher was getting an addicted 15 year old to join a sport team. There is one thing that this article is missing. How can parents and teachers help gamers before they get to the requiring in-patient treatment stage?
Mary K (New York)
Brilliant, thorough and helpful article.
Scott (Virginia)
Great article. Thanks. I have shown all of the signs and symptoms of an addiction disorder in relation to my gaming behavior. For years I tried everything I could to get it under control, but despite what felt like initial successes, I was gaming more than ever by the end. I was able to stop with the help of Computer Gaming Addicts Anonymous. It turns out that the approaches that work well for other types of addiction also work for gaming addiction. To those who think that people who are gaming compulsively are actually suffering from other mental issues, you're absolutely right. The same is true of alcoholics and drug addicts. Emotional pain and mental dysfunction are the prime engines behind addiction. This reality does not change the fact that many compulsive gamers are showing all of the symptoms of an addiction disorder.
Ryan Gunter (Portland Oregon)
Great piece!
Jordan (NYC)
I have mixed feelings about this article and the comments. I’m a teacher and computers have changed everything. I am also the mom of a boy whom I was very worried about as he hung out in his room and played games for hours. But at school, it is the girls who are most addicted to their phones. Who learns when they’re not listening? I read a lot of comments:girls ,good; boys , bad. Let’s talk about the whole gamut of electronics. Let’s talk about he inability of of most children to accept rejection and failure. In the last ten years the number of students with anxiety disorders has skyrocketed. I love the comments “I played games and got a’s, but those other losers...”. I also love those comments “those parents with the gaming kids aren’t good parents.” It’s so complicated and it’s so new but it’s not just the games, believe me. I don’t think it’s fair to demonize games and portray boys as big fat lazy losers. I appreciate opening the door on the discussion but I’m telling you, phones are a much bigger problem. And they are always and everywhere.
Al Mostonest (Virginia)
These games are a perfect metaphor for the culture and the economic system in which we live. And, yes, they are addictive. And they are interesting and fun to play with this idea in mind. It didn't take long for me to see myself as a rat in a Skinner Box being studied and treated to rewards as I ran around pressing levers (hitting icons). I felt myself and my fellow players being studied as we figured out the game, and I saw the game being subtly or not-so-subtly altered as they figured out what we were doing to get around their system and to win with our skills. I saw them upping the ante to keep us unbalanced. And, yes, I realized how much valuable time I was wasting having fun. And then there came a point when it just wasn't fun anymore. All this being said, it's quite obvious that when you play a game on a platform that someone else controls, by rules that someone else can change on a whim, you are going to lose whatever "agency" or "selfhood" that you think you have. You will become a "tool," a rat in a boxed experiment. "Monopoly" was invented by a follower of Henry George to show people how to understand real estate monopoly, rent tax, wealth, and exploitation. But most people just play it to imagine themselves getting wealthy. One can learn from these games, but you need to have the kind of mind that thinks on its own behalf, even when someone is providing fun to lure you into a trap and get your money.
Kitta MacPherson (Clifton, N.J.)
This is a brilliantly reported, beautifully written, insightful piece. I am sharing it with everyone I know who hasn’t seen it.
Laurie Gough (Canada)
I find it ironic that it’s obvious that many of the commenters here haven’t had the patience to read the entire article in all its well-researched excellence and are simply answering the question in the title of whether or not gaming is addictive. Video games (and social media) have given people such scarily short attention spans that they can’t even read an entire article no matter how interesting and relevant it is to their lives.
Buffalo (Oakland, CA.)
As a practicing psychotherapist, I'm surprised that this question can even be asked. Of course, we can become addicted to video games, and many people do. For any activity, from substance abuse to workouts, the criteria are simply that you've become aware that the activity is negatively affecting your life, you have attempted to decrease or stop the activity, and you have been unable to do so, despite your attempts. At that point, yes, your condition can be described as an addiction, and some kind of intervention is going to be required, whether with professional help, or understanding (and patient) friends. Refusing to call it what it is, though, is not going to be helpful, so, no; it's not at all "far-fetched". It's an addiction.
Ace Arch (Chicago, IL)
No. I tire of them after the years of playing. A couple hours a day, few days a week, if that, and I'm spent. I believe, due to WoW, the industry has made a marked effort to phase out the addictive aspects of most video games which is evidenced by the amount of mediocrity that is released every month. So many want to apply conditions of dependence and addiction to this, but it is simply not possible. If addiction were a culprit it wouldn't matter how old an individual is in regards to their amount of play time when compared to their youth, but I can pretty much guarantee that anyone of age that does play excessively does so because of other outside reasoning's such as being unemployed or the need for the escapism provided. It's simply a hobby that those who partake in it, dive deep. Are people who read books all day addicted? You can certainly make the argument, oh but reading is considered a good thing, while gaming is considered a bad thing, by "societal" standards. I'll stick with my own discernment.
B (Boston, MA)
@Ace Arch You obviously didn't read the entire article and it shows by your comment. Try reading the entire thing first then commenting.
Brett (NYC)
@Ace Arch I think it a mistake when looking at a topic to look at yourself. Something that affects billions, one or a few people is hardly a case study. Your second paragraph is chicken or the egg. Does an alcoholic do poorly at work because of alcohol or does an alcoholic drink because they’re dissatisfied with their job? There is a point when a hobby becomes an addiction and there is obviously a spectrum to how each hobby/addiction can affect one’s life. If serial reading starts causing reclusion, depression and suicide, you can open reRead.
Aaron Creagh (Albany, NY)
Let's start at the beginning. With me it was the Atari 2600. The Atari 2600 was looking primitive when It was brand new on the market. But when the Nintendo Entertainment System came around, it added some new things to the video game landscape. It had clearer visuals and new peripherals, like the light gun called the "NES Zapper" added the first real newness to video gaming. (Atari who?) What was the original question? Can you really become addicted to video games. My answer is beyond yes!
Country Girl (Rural PA)
Yes, it is absolutely possible to become addicted to gaming. My late fiance was in his mid-40s when we met and had been laid off permanently from his job. When we weren't at his friends' house or sitting in the club while he drank (he was a longtime alcoholic) he played video games. He yelled at the games. He talked to them. He kept up a running commentary about what he was doing. When I got bored, he became upset that I didn't want to watch him play these ugly, violent games. He thought it should be "fun" for me to watch him play. In reality, I was bored stiff. As enticement to get me to enjoy gaming, he purchased a Nintendo Wii with accessories and games to play golf, Frisbee, bowling and other multiplayer action games. I learned how to play these games and got pretty good at some of them. But he would soon tire of these fun games and go back to his violent shooting games. When he passed away suddenly at the age of 49 from liver failure due to his drinking, I gave all of his game systems and games to his daughter. I doubt she ever played any of them. Modern video games are designed for young men. They are of little interest to women, who tend to have groups of friends with whom they frequently talk and socialize. Women simply don't care to sit for hours on end playing video games with the goal of killing as many opponents as possible, driving recklessly through simulated cities or building empires and conquering the world.
Kate L. Nolt, MPH, PhD (Creighton University, Omaha, NE)
For the last year I have been conducting research on this very topic. The difference is that my target population has been youth ages 15 - 18. Participants include parents and their teens. I have heard, and experienced myself, some of the stories about gaming and technology issues that are tearing some families apart. Teens and parents alike are frustrated with the interference of technology into their family lives. It's heartbreaking. No matter what word we use to describe this situation, it's tearing at the fabric of family and healthy development of meaningful relationships. It's real.... #families #publichealth
Observer (Buffalo, NY)
Community, family, friends and our connection to them is the most important thing in a person's life. Not money, not possessions, not temporarily mind-altering experiences. Teach your kids by enjoying their company and inviting their friends over. I can't tell you how many people confess to me that they really don't like people. It's because so many are obsessed with only their own daily lives, which they so much want to share, but have not learned how to enjoy what others can share. They are completely missing out, leading a very narrow life of isolation. Self sufficiency is a lie. We all need each other because one person alone does not have all the answers.
Boregard (NYC)
Why are we still asking ourselves this question? We humans are susceptible to a whole host of addictions, so why not a "game" that tweaks your hormones and allows extended periods of reality escapism? Two things we humans love...hormone tweaks and escapism. Of course some people will become addicted, just like there are people addicted to touching their cell phones every few minutes. People become addicted to things we normally view as helpful and healthy and natural. Like exercise. Like work. Like sex. Food. We need to eat, but not in the quantities and frequency some food addicts take it. Humans are a species riddled with compulsions, is it any wonder that Tech (generic term now for video game, phone, apps, etc, manufacturers) figured out many ways to prey upon that propensity? No, its not! It was completely predictable and obvious to many observers. If there's one thing the US business Establishment, in its many for-profit at all costs guises, is good at is getting us consumers addicted to their dopey schemes and products. Its the whole of business now. Trying to get us Brand loyal to a fault, and make that loyalty a virtue. Look at Apple devotees. Its akin to a religious adherence. We have to stop asking this question, because all it does is slow down the process by which people can admit to the addictions and their inherent problems, and get appropriate help. As well as there be ongoing and sensible regulation on the "pushers". We humans are prone to addiction.
Alanna (Vancouver)
There is a difference between an obsession-compulsion and an addiction. Although the brain changes in response to any stimulus, the term addiction was usually reserved for substances because they had a direct biological, psychological, social and spiritual impact, with biological withdrawal symptoms. People could die from barbiturate withdrawal, for example. Gaming, sex, eating and other typical, if not necessary human functions, can become obsessions, compulsions - what the DSM would consider obsessive-compulsive disorders - that can be just as debilitating as addictions but are not immediately life threatening like say heroin ODs. We need more mental health care for all conditions and shouldn’t have to label something an addiction to get help.
Florence (Albany,NY)
I think all addiction has a deeper cause. Anxiety, depression, bi-polar disorder all seem to play a role. You frequently hear people in recovery describe how in the early stages of addiction, the substance or behavior was the only thing that made them finally feel “normal” and in control. The spiral occurs because while other people’s brains tell them they have had enough, an addicts brains always want more. Unfortunately, if the underlying issues aren’t identified and addressed early, full blown addiction is likely to ensue. Then sadly, it can take a long period while a person struggles in recovery before the underlying issue becomes clear and can be treated. So, it really doesn’t matter if we are talking about a substance or a behavior, it’s the outcome that indicates whether someone has an addiction.
Aaron Creagh (Albany, NY)
@Florence Anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder, can play role. But I personally think the real root of the problem, is something much simpler. It sounds like you're focusing on the word "addiction." If that's the case, I must leave this discussion.
Florence (Albany,NY)
What is the “much simpler” ?
EconomistOnHealth (Louisiana)
We started serious gaming in the early 1980's as soon as computers emerged. Most of the hard-core gamers underachieved, and it felt like they were looking for success, and as games became more realistic, GAMING success began to be substituted for real-world success. It's awfully easy to blur those lines when you are in a game..... It was almost a for self-esteem....Strange...but I totally understand the compulsion to call it an "addiction"....but am more in the camp of it being a symptom of deeper problems...
Anthony Davis (Seoul South Korea)
Behavioral addictions are just that--compulsions centered around behavior, regardless of the venue. If the 12 hours of video game playing by the average gamer is considered a alarming, then what is the nearly 36 hours a week of the average American TV viewer? What is the 22 hours of phone screen time by the average American? Perhaps these hours spent whiling away on devices speak to something much bigger than compulsive behavior. A study out of University of Chicago Business Economics found that unemployed, young male gamers reported being happier than the same demographic who held down jobs. Many studies have shown that the happiest age group in the US are those entering retirement. Perhaps, just perhaps, the commonality between excessive digital time--regardless of the device--is that entertainment has become far more rewarding and meaningful than many jobs.
Brett (NYC)
@Anthony Davis unemployed young male gamers don’t have to feed, cloth or shelter themselves. Of course they’re happier than their counterparts, or just pretend to be in surveys. Your last sentence seems (to me) to imply people in countries outside the US go to work when they have time off because they like it more than going to a ball game or a concert.
meloop (NYC)
The word and concept "addiction" usually-at least 70 odd years ago-tended to refer to a physical habit that was not easy or sometimes not possible to end. AS most or many of those who use these games seem to be able to stop, limit ort end their use of games-it might better be viewed as "habituation", where an individual is allowed by the time, family and perhaps peer pressure, to abuse the rules or absence of any that parents or adults have set up for their use. I feared for the kids I knew-only to see them, in college, learn a new set of skills and make new friends which no longer included daily use of games. So, habituation, seems like a better word.
Barry Williams (NY)
How about this as a definition of addiction: anything that regularly and consistently alters brain chemistry such that activities serving the addiction are the most important things in one's life. At any given moment, if there is a choice with significance between the "addictive" activity and doing something else, and you almost always choose the activity, then you are indeed addicted. Especially if the addictive activity serves only the activity, as opposed to the something else.
Andy Holstein (Texas)
@Barry Williams Comedian Doug Stanhope once said "there's no such thing as addiction - there's only things you enjoy more than life."
Mike S. (Eugene, OR)
As a past substitute teacher in high school, it wasn't gaming that struck me as much as how boys seemed so far behind girls and didn't care. Of course, it wasn't all boys, but society has pushed girls to excel and has role models everywhere and in every field. In a society where a few are literal and figurative rock stars, I can understand how gaming is an escape. For me, it was reading, but that was sixty years ago. As a retired neurologist, I would add don't underestimate the power of dopamine. I'm glad I'm not 18.
Debra Carriere (Corvallis, OR)
@Mike S. ...nor the powerlessness of isolation.
Martha Goff (Sacramento)
I’m not into gaming at all, but I definitely struggle with internet addiction, especially Facebook and news. What frustrates me most is the FOMO (fear of missing out) and resultant fragmentation of my attention span. It’s a lot harder to focus deeply on any activity, since I’m so used to scrolling and skipping around from one interesting infobite to the next, never really enjoying a deep drink of any one photo, article or nonscreen activity. I want my “flow” back... but multiple attempts at sustained digital fasts have been unsuccessful.
Mark F (Ottawa)
12 hours a week? Those are rookie numbers, gotta pump those up.
PZ Atac (Closter, NJ)
look again, it's 12 hours a day, not a week. still rookie numbers though.
Eva Lockhart (Minneapolis)
Talk to 9th grade boys about this. Some don't choose to do anything but game if allowed to do whatever they want in their free time. All of them? No. The ones whose parents monitor and set limits, the ones who value academics and insist on good grades, the ones who are athletic and play sports, the ones who already love to read or cook or go fishing, or work on cars or who play chess, are into drama club, or who play board games or card games, all of those kids are going to be fine. Some of them might game but not all the time, not every day. But the others? The more low motivated, the more socially immature, the least athletic, the poor readers, many of them will spend their entire weekend and every weeknight gaming. No studying happens, no reading, homework is blown off again and again, other school activities that are social and active or creative, are never joined, sports teams abandoned because gamers are too tired for practice before or after school, due to staying up too late gaming. Just wait. Just as we ignored all those people taking opiates until it was a full blown, national crisis, we're going to ignore this one too. There's going to be an entire generation of basement boys living with parents, gaming, unemployed or underemployed, unless we realize the danger and start making changes in what we allow our boys to do as children. It takes time and tremendous energy and patience and fortitude to parent in this age of technology. Gaming addiction is horribly real.
Pat (NYC)
@Eva Lockhart your sterotyping is hilarious. It's not just "loser nerds" who play and become addicted to video games, I've been addicted at varying points in my life and I was an exceptional reader as a child, did incredibly well in school, and also loved and was good at sports like basketball, baseball, and football. In fact, my academic prowess (which led me to the Ivy League) was what even allowed me to play games to a point of excess -- I finished all my school work incredibly fast so that I could hop on a game. Anyway my point is simply that you're making it seem like all the jock, popular kids won't ever pick up a game or if they do they'll be immediately bored because they will have girls to go out with or fun stuff to do. But in reality the social isolation aspect of this article is really what hits home and is the true fundamental issue at play here.
Tom (Seattle)
@Pat Let's stipulate that addictions can affect all sorts of people, both highly competent and academically, physically, or socially limited, at many different stages in their lives. However, adolescent boys are particularly vulnerable to developing an addiction to video games. Yes, isolation and a desire to escape from stress play an important role in this addiction, yet anxiety or depression or both are also commonly involved. Therapy and even medication may be needed to get to the root of emotional problems in an addict, as well as alternatives to gaming that include hobbies and activities that connect him to other people and the natural world.
JN (Cali)
Terrific article. Emphasis on the complexity of addiction was appreciated. Excellent reporting by the times. I feel for these young men and found the path of those who found recovery together to be inspiring, and appreciated their bravery in sharing their stories. I count the fact that I have personally avoided addictions of any real sort as one of my greatest blessings (but have seen first hand how destructive they can be). I hope people will read thoughtfully and appreciate the perspectives here.
Jack (AK)
Addiction: the most overused word in the English language?
N. Wallace (California)
I feel like the author had decided on his conclusions before writing it. He gives short shrift to the scientists and researchers who argue that gaming isn't inherently addictive, while focusing on the most extreme cases to prove his thesis that video games present a new, unique danger. I’ve been playing video games regularly for over 25 years now, including Stardew Valley. I know the pull of “One more day". But I also have a rule about not starting a new book right before bedtime. Any pastime can be captivating; video games aren’t unique in this regard. The issue is when it begins to interfere with what psychologists call “activities of daily living”, as with the young men profiled in this article. The author seems convinced that gaming inevitably contributes to social isolation, but cites no actual research on the topic. My own experience is the opposite: I have found real community through gaming. From the LGBTQ+ guild in Final Fantasy XIV to the mostly-female Discord group of FFXIV players and fan fiction writers who talk about the game, our lives, and our writing while supporting and cheering each other on, gaming can foster connections between people. As with any community, there are serious problems among gamers, like the toxic misogyny and racism that fueled Gamergate. But like the obsessive behavior Mr. Jabr describes in this article, those attitudes may be symptoms of larger societal issues rather than inherent to gaming and gaming culture.
Kit (Melbourne)
@N. Wallace Perhaps the language could have been softened in places, but I thought the sentiment you raise is the same or similar to the conclusion reached by the author.
George M Woods (Anchorage,AK)
@N. Wallace I think you missed the author’s point, that being that social isolation leads to gaming, that “video addiction “ is in response to a lack of social engagement. Implicit in that conclusion is the core of all “addictions.”
Golfhard (NYC)
People were getting addicted to the likes of Pac-Man in the 1980's, and there was almost no substance or emotional engagement with those old coin-op arcade games.
Mr (Big)
The Pacman era games didn't have "rewards" and other psychologically-based incentives to continue playing. I really can't imagine playing something as boring as Pacman for ten hours straight. But these new games aren't boring. They're addictive.
Elena M. (Brussels, Belgium)
@Mr They had 'top scores'.
Brock (SLC)
@Golfhard I would agree with Mr that today's video games are more seductive in part because of their rewards. The thing is, at least Pac-man of the 1980's still had at least some connection to community. Arcades were a physical public space where people interacted with one another in real life. Now video games are 100% virtual that simulate social connections.
ck (chicago)
Addiction is a self reported condition. And yet year after year there is this "research" reported which *always* swings the pendulum from definitely to impossible (stopping at "who cares") along the way. It's addictive. Some goofy clownish guy called PewDePie is the most subscribed to channel on you tube. I checked it out -- it's a guy playing video games and chattering about it while he does it. There are apparently many channels of guys playing video games with people watching in real time and the audiences expect to tune in whenever day or night and see live playing, like 20 hours a day. What?! Children should be supervised and not allowed to do anything compulsively or to the exclusion of a healthy variety of activities. Unfortunately their parents are so addicted to their screens they feel hypocritical saying anything. Maybe they are just happy the kids aren't disturbing their own screen time?
Amy (Michigan)
I think that one of the problems is the demonizing of the industry. This is no different then alcohol yet you don't see the world trying to end all alcohol. (prohibiation didn't last). I became disabled in 2005. ( I was a victim of a hit and run) Up till that point I didn't game much. While the intital accident didn't immedatiely effect my mobility, over time my health both mental and phsyical went down hill(turned into a catch 22 as one effected the other) Once I became housebound( I can no longer drive). My world became much smaller and socialiation became almost non exsistent. Gaming and the internet became the only real interaction that I could count on everyday. I can't say it became an addiction as it did't cause any disruptions in my life but then again there wasn't much else I could do. I spend more time gaming then most people do working. To be honest it saved my life as it kept me from thinking about ending my life.(which I am very thankful for). Everything in moderation but I think everyone is different as far as where that line is. I truely think that you can't blame gaming itself anymore then you can blame alcohol. Isolation that kills and gaming can and does help with that. I think it started to become an issue when it become to dangerous in some places to go outside. I'd rather a person game then go outside and get shot. It's a sad state of affairs. Maybe if there was less fear their would be more people going outside and interacting with each other.
Brian Brennan (philly)
anecdotally i can say yes, very much so. So many of my friends devotes 6+ hours a DAY on online video games. For young men especially it provides the illusion of doing work and feeling success, distracting from the harsh realities of life. I can also tell you anecdotally that if these men spent 1/2 the amount of effort on a small business or even trying to get a date they'd be both millionaires and married by now. Im really curious about the effects this has had on the economy.. i bet its massive. I fear China is probably right to limit time able to be spent on videogames.... This flip side being I think a lot of violent crime has been avoided due to the violent impulses of young men being satiated by violent videogames. This is all anecdotal guesses but I think there is a lot of truth mixed up in here.
Sherrod Shiveley (Lacey)
Informative and well-written. I am addicted to the NYT website. Several years ago, my very young son helped me navigate getting on to a hotel WiFi. He handed my device back and said, “Now enter ‘New York Times’.” He just knew what I needed.
Jack (AK)
@Sherrod Shiveley Cute story! I was at sea a while back and the internet went down. I went to customer service for an unrelated matter and there was a panicked gentleman wanting to know how to get Fox News on his phone.
David P. (OR)
Now, first thing is I will say they are supposed to be slightly addictive yes. But, in this case he was using them as a coping mechanism. Not for just entertainment, it was something that took his pain away from break ups. We have to look at that as well. Not just the fact he was playing so much. But now, not to say they are not addicting. Iterating that once more. There was a family that tried to sell their kids for gift cards to use to pay their WoW (World of Warcraft) subscriptions. But there are also benefits to games as well Times, plenty of which you can research. Please publish a follow up article to this one with that please. So people can see that yes entertainment is addictive, but Video Games can also have a positive impact as well.
Chandler Bradley (CT)
Video games will only get better at manipulating our psychology while we remain human. But we'll be human, and so able to steer ourselves back to life and light.
Scott Cole (Talent, OR)
The only people who claim gaming isn't addictive are those (like heavy pot smokers) who are...already addicted. "Dude, I can like, stop whenever I want."
Elena M. (Brussels, Belgium)
@Scott Cole When referring to addictive drugs, pot is not one that comes to mind...
David Bartlett (Keweenaw Bay, MI)
If smartphones are like marijuana, then video games are its heroin. Make no mistake; we are all addicted.
Michael (Seattle)
Are video games addictive? Quite obviously, yes. Next.
Jean W. Griffith (Planet Earth)
The answer is YES.
MrMikeludo (Philadelphia)
As Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart said: "The music is in the nothingness..." And, as scientific studies have proven: “Princeton's Barry Jacobs believes that, based on experiments with cats, repetitive motor activity, such as walking, stimulates the release of serotonin. A Little Help From Serotonin. Could a single brain chemical hold the key to happiness – as the 20th century winds down, we humans seem increasingly convinced that serotonin is the key to a good life, and it's easy to see why. This once obscure neurotransmitter is the secret behind Prozac, the drug that revolutionized the pursuit of happiness ten years ago this winter. Prozac works by boosting serotonin activity in the brain. Serotonin is so basic to life that even sea slugs produce it. When a nerve impulse reaches a branch ending, the neuron releases serotonin into a tiny space – or synapse, microseconds later the neuron that released the chemical takes it back in again, a process known as reuptake. Serotonin pacifies neurons in the limbic system, the Brain's Department of Animal Instincts...” M.L. / G.C. The "cognizance of nothing" is what enables the function of "reuptake" to occur, and production of serotonin. If you take away the "nothingness," as in: television - movies - noels - cell phones - video games, you have created the basis for "addiction," period.
Phyllis Mazik (Stamford, CT)
Almost any activity can be addictive in as much as mankind is fully aware of mortality. We use various behaviors and devices to mask the fact that we are essentially lonely and will die. All the great religious leaders had a wilderness experience before starting their “teaching” mission. They had faced loneliness and death and had overcome fear. Average mortals waste too much of their lives in trivia rather than finding a way to come to term with life. Video games are just one of many masks.
Joel H (MA)
For some. We are challenged yet capable of ending an addiction. It is accomplished regularly. In this modern world, no longer limited to bare subsistence. Struggle for mere survival. Time. Choice. Individual and tribe. Then, one is bereft of distraction and escape. Depression, trauma, guilt, shame, hunger, isolation, unfulfilled appetite, instinct, fear, pain, delusion, want, anger, need, illness, anxiety, despair, nihilism, etc. remain. If not ..., then ... Build a life of meaning, purpose, value, actualization, satisfaction, etc.? How we struggle!
Katherine O (Toronto)
Two things about this article strike me. The first is that his mother literally saved his life. The second is that every single photo in this article consists of white men. Why is this? Gaming is ubiquitous and, if you have a smart phone, it is very cheap for people, regardless of age, class or gender. While it is a positive thing for organizations like reStart to exist, what are the broader implications if only a certain segment of the population can afford the $22,000 fee?
Todd (Bermuda Triangle)
The opposite of addiction is connection. Clearly, from this man's stories of relational ruptures, followed by more hardcore gaming, he was suffering from disconnection. Alcohol, drugs, gaming-- all fill that void of disconnection. Someday, we may have sophisticated enough neural analysis to realize that these technologies provide a stimulation, call it a dopamine hit, that replaces actual, face-to-face, human contact. It's interesting to note that alcoholism as an epidemic did not exist until the Industrial Revolution, with the rise of cities and alienated individuals. It's very telling that Silicon Valley execs won't let their children near smart-phones-- they understand what they've unleashed is addicting a generation. They understand these technologies not only distort not only the brains, but the entire nervous systems of billions of future adults, who will struggle to try to navigate the nuance and complexity of human relationships mediated not by screens and clicks and quick dopamine hits, but by emotions, affective experiences, desire and conflict, hope of love and withdrawal of affection. The WHO is right to include this as a disorder, but commenters are also right to speculate on why are so many of us suffering amidst such abundance, so driven to distraction when all our supposed wants are so readily met? Take a look at rats in a maze, addicted to dopamine hits, and you'll see a mirror of modernity. Google "Rat Park" to see an alternative future-- of connection
Frank (sydney)
'“These guys have almost universally what I would call an intimacy disorder,” Cash told me. “They don’t really know how to build and maintain intimate relationships. The solution to addiction is connection.' yesterday at childcare I observed boys running around, generally shouting, knocking things over and making a nuisance of themselves - males tend to be loud, annoying and physically challenging then I sat with a 5yo girl - who engaged me in a delightful playtime of raised eyebrows - looking away, covering her eyes, looking through her fingers - we played Monopoly, and had a delightful time - I got her to add up the numbers on the 3 dice we were rolling - and she would laugh and dance with joy. that's a difference - females are raised to share their feelings - males tend to be raised to suppress them - with damaging results for all and sundry.
figure8 (new york, ny)
I wish someone could give me back the time I spent playing Tomb Raider, The Sims, Resident Evil, Myst, etc. My solution was to sell the playstation and stop cold turkey. I find it so strange when I see little kids playing games on their parents' iPhones. Shouldn't most parents know how addictive games/tech are? If kids aren't allowed to smoke cigarettes, why are they allowed to play hours of games?
James S (00)
@figure8 Because games can actually teach certain skills and evoke certain emotions? Why expose children to any cultural activity?
Luis (Baltimore, MD)
I am disturbed by the many online ads that claim that this or that are "addictive." Why is addictiveness considered by so many as a positive quality of anything?
FH (Minnesota)
Of course video games are addictive; It’s all just dopamine reward in the brain. Same reward center as gambling, fishing, sex, donuts, food in general, roller coasters, etc. basically everything we crave as humans. Anyone can find themselves conditioned to be addicted to any of these things. Some have more negative impacts for ones health, finances, or social well-being than others, and these are more strongly considered a vice. Ask a fisherman’s wife if he’s addicted to fishing... Video games are artificially stimulating to our senses, and in that way are more like a drug than a hobby. I was definitely an addict off and on through my formative years, but hung it up cold turkey my freshman year of college after playing (a to remain nameless PC strategy game) through the night and several classes the next day. I was also lucky that I could never get the hang of the dual joystick Xbox controller at the time. My roommate played WOW for 18 hours a day, but somehow still managed to graduate; some people can manage through the addiction; not me, so I quit. The ubiquitous screens in every restaurant, bar, and toddlers hand are not helping us kick our collective dopamine addiction. Put the controllers down and go fish!
Kirk Cornwell (Delmar, NY)
A video-game life or a “social media” life? Watching a young person whose development is on hold is strange, especially if their “social skills” are slow or worse. It is impossible to predict where they, or society, will be in five or ten years. I’m spending too much time hiding in thousands of Times comments.
David G. (Monroe NY)
There’s no question! My 23 year old son was serially addicted to video games, to the detriment of school, work, and socializing. He lived with his mother for many years, and she had no tools to address the problem. He lives with me now. Rule number 1 was finding a job. Done. Rule number 2 was finding friends. I helped him reconnect with childhood friends here, and he’s busy everyday with social activities. There isn’t nearly as much time for video addiction. And the next step is a return to college. One foot in front of the other. I could use this example to point out that child custody laws shouldn’t always favor the mother. But I won’t.
Sia (Hudson, NY)
@David G. I am a single mother dealing with my 23-year old son. He has been home from college for three semesters now. He has a McJob, is taking a few courses at the local university, and tutors a kid for SAT prep. I feel I cannot "engineer" his social life - his only "friends" are the ones online. Return to college is my next step too but I am afraid that he is not ready. When will I know?
Sloan Kulper (Hong Kong)
News, Television, Shopping, the list goes on. These are all activities that by their nature provide novelty, can be very pleasurable, and are designed by commercial providers to lead customers to compulsively return again and again. An environment that provides novelty, pleasure, and community for free isn’t that great for capitalism.
Marcel Ivan (Mexico)
It was a good article, I know there is a problem, but I am not sure it is gaming. There is a "profound loneliness of men". From other research, we know there has been a surge of 'deaths of despair' over the past decade. Is gaming a real addiction ? I think "no", why? because television,movies and technology could be addictions, I mean "Charlie Bracke" Had problems, "he sank into a period of severe depression" and that was the key. Or was it the gaming that caused it? It still is not clear to me. I have played games over the years, during high school and college since I was 8, but did very well in school (I still am playing videogames). Acctually Videogames are "Esports"and our society tries to sell us products every day. To make things worse, many companies are using loot boxes as a monetization strategy. That practices need to be regulated. I hope people understand: alcohol, like drugs, are physically addictive. Games are seriously habit forming. that is the difference.
skramsv (Dallas)
@Marcel Ivan Like gaming, alcohol and drugs are a choice, not a physical problem. Since you can choose to put down the game controller, bottle, or not use, none of these things should be called a disease. One cannot wake up one day and decide to quit the flu or cancer. Science has determined how to stimulate pleasure parts of the brain. We like that stimulation and our bodies can manufacture illness-like symptoms to ensure we will not stop that stimulation. Addiction is a mental disorder that may trigger some physical symptoms. This is why going to rehab that just cuts you off from the stimulant doesn't work. They do not address the underlying mental problems/illness/disease. This is why drug "addicts" keep chasing the ultimate high thinking it will erase their mental pain. Video games offer a very similar escape/high. I have suffered chronic migraines since age 15. I was taught how to manage the pain by focusing on something or try and become so involved in an activity that I would forget the migraine. It didn't work too well but that was all I had. Now with severe RA, I used this to control pain instead of pills and now pain gets expressed in physical symptoms. There is a strong connection between the brain and physical symptoms and it seems to be bi-directional. I cannot choose to quit RA. I choose every day to not pick up a drink or go to the corner skyhighatrist and get illegal drugs as the pain will still be there after the high is gone.
BC (Arizona)
As one who had studied childhood and youth for nearly 50 years and reviewed almost all the research on children, youth, and media including video games I can say like other responses here that seeing it as an addiction can be too broad a brush. It is a complex topic and results are mixed and it is certainly not as prone to addiction like smoking, opiods, other drugs and alcohol. The article is well researched. Yet for me the key to this article was the clearness, pristine quality and the humanity of the writing. Journalism at its best. Keep in up Ferris Jabr!
ml (usa)
oh yes - I am not a ‘gamer’, and I used to wonder what I would want with a smartphone I never needed. Yet here I am since I was given one a few years ago and I have become addicted to both the phone for news and the games on it. I don’t even use it for social media like Facebook, Twitter or texting friends. When forced to give it up I am relieved, but otherwise I find myself reaching for it, anytime, amywhere. Books (even ebooks) and magazines I used to love to read remain untouched. The time spent is surely less than true gamers, but nevertheless it has cost me sleep and thus my health. Not to mention achy and tight neck muscles since the iphone grew in weight. I recall the time I lived well without any of this, and will celebrate the day the phone with its games and easy accessibility will be gone.
Upstate Rob (Altamont, NY)
The problem of "profound loneliness" and addiction to video games is just a symptom of a deeper problem. The young men that are vulnerable to video games are also prime targets for extremism and terrorism. I for one think video game addiction is a better alternative to other things they could turn to- drugs, crime, extremism. There will always be broken people in the world and video games are one of the least harmful things they could turn to. At least they are hurting only themselves rather than others.
Mary Sojourner (Flagstaff)
Thank you, New York Times, for this incisive and terrifying article. Dopamine: cocaine, slot machines, video gaming. It is precisely this factor: "dopamine is not as closely linked to pleasure as once thought; it is much more important for wanting than liking," To experience the pleasure of anticipation is often far more delightful that the pleasure of reward. That is the allure of a slot machine - any second, something fabulous can happen. It's easy to pity or judge a slot addict; now, we can be aware that children all over the digital world are being trained to be addicts.
Paul (Los Angeles)
Incredible, detailed, investigative article. My compliments to the author, Mr. Ferris Jabr. It is staggering to see what we are becoming as humans-so disconnected from each other, from nature, from our physical reality.
Jeffrey (07302)
I am a few years older then Charlie Bracke and have been gaming for over 30 years and was generally skeptical of this article based on my experience. I heavily played games over the years, especially during high school and college, but did very well in school. I have been successful so far in my chosen profession, am married, and have a child. After finishing reading this article, I am convinced there is a problem, but I am not sure it is gaming. As the article mentions, there is a "profound loneliness of American men". From other research, we know there has been a surge of 'deaths of despair' over the past decade. So while gaming may be correlated for these men, it isn't clear to me it is causal. Put another way, are the lives of these men in such terrible shape that the best way out is through gaming? Or is it the gaming that causes it? It still is not clear to me.
KK (long island, ny)
Well written and insightful article. I do believe that people get addicted to various behaviors that provide positive feedback elements, including gambling, video games and IMHO television as well. I used to be "addicted" to watching TV until I had an epiphany of how much time was being wasted on watching TV. I no longer watch TV and I don't miss it. Real life may sometimes be boring or difficult, but it's much preferable to TV reality!
Larry (Idaho)
I'll leave the debates about addiction to the experts, but I really can't see how this computer gaming can be good for civilization in general. There's no physical exercise in it, but more importantly, gamers are missing the opportunity to discover the profound richness and complexity of the natural world around them.
James (Denver, CO)
@Larry Not physical exercise, but most popular video games revolve around some combination of logic, puzzle-solving, or twitch-based movements requiring immense amounts of hand-eye coordination to perform well. To counter your stereotype, I am a 30 year old architect, musician, and life-long video gamer that exercises daily and spends nearly every weekend either hiking or cycling outdoors. To me and many of my friends, there is no other way I'd rather fill the time between my day to day responsibilities and other hobbies. Video games make me optimistic for younger generations as we grow older. Life-long gamers will absolutely maintain a mental sharpness that those that succumb to mindlessly watching television simply can not. Our bodies may slow down, but that doesn't mean our brains have to check out.
Larry (Idaho)
@James Thanks, you have given me food for thought.
Paul Tate (Manhattan)
@James You need to work with a bunch of 20 year-old kids and re-think that position.
Edward Swing (Peoria, AZ)
I conducted video game effects research while earning my Social Psychology PhD and I was previously a heavy gamer myself. I enjoyed this article. It's very thoughtful, well-researched and gives a nuanced portrayal of the scientific and human issues involved here. I didn't study video game addiction but I worked with people who did. As the article mentions, if you simply take the criteria used for diagnosing other addictions and substitute gaming, a subset of gamers will meet the criteria. When my gaming was at it's peak, I was playing 40+ hours per week in an online game with others who were spending a similar amount of time. Several of my fellow gamers at times referred to their own gameplay as an addiction in informal conversations. It was also common for players to quit the game, referencing struggles with their education, jobs, and relationships caused by the game. I don't think I was addicted but life/career demands did lead me to scale back my gaming and I've avoided playing anywhere near the degree I did before. I understand the desire not to stigmatize gamers - this does occur through unfair stereotypes and negative portrayals in popular media - yet this article and my own experiences show that there are those for whom gaming is a serious problem. Efforts to treat video game addiction don't require banning games or even portraying them as something inherently bad. Failing to help such people simply to avoid stigmatizing an activity is doing them a real disservice.
Eric (California)
I've played video games a long time, my gaming habits took precedent over my grades in high school. I was able to turn things around when I didn't get into any acceptable four year colleges and realized I needed to go to community college for a second chance at attending a good UC. I don't think this rose to the level of addiction. When I made an effort to balance my time better I was able to do so. I now have much more adult responsibilities and usually play less than 15 hours a week (comparable to television for a lot of people). They're actually a net benefit to my health at this point because 30 minutes of uninterrupted play while exercising is my incentive to get on the treadmill. I will also say it ultimately shaped my career path in positive ways. I worked for dozens if not hundreds of hours on a mod for my favorite game in high school and that helped push me towards choosing computer science as a major and software development as a career. I do think it's possible to become addicted. To make things worse, many companies are using loot boxes as a monetization strategy. It's my opinion that such predatory practices need to be regulated, they're not required for profits and they're entirely too close to gambling. However, I'd hate to see gaming develop a stigma because it's dangerous for some people. At some point you need to have the personal responsibility to know your own limits and stay within them like the recovering addicts features in this article.
Jeff (OR)
Well said. Thanks for sharing.
bd (NY)
YES! Yes, some people can get 'addicted' to video games. I made the mistake of letting my young (sub-5-yo) play a certain action video game that was old-school 8-bit pixelly (actually, the Wolfenstein that was mentioned), so I thought - what's the harm, it's cartoonish fun, right? We played a few days and soon she looked forward to doing this every day when I got home. Then we realized when she didn't get to do it right away, she would act out. I gave in that night, but we decided to wean her off it starting the next night. I used the excuse that I lent it out and will get it back next week, and a full-on tantrum ensued. The next few nights, anxious 'where's the game?' questions. Every night. It took about a week until she gave up asking, but lesson learned.
Mandy Foster (New Orleans)
I’m surprised that the story discusses the “rats push the drug lever til they die” experiments without mentioning their more contemporary updates: repeated experiments have shown that rats held in cages with other rats and with exercise and play and sex opportunities DO NOT become addicted to substances. This supports what seems to the author’s thesis - that, whether or not gaming can be considered an addiction, the most crucial factor is socialization. Isolated humans, like isolated rats, will choose pleasure over loneliness even to point of forgoing other basic needs. But men and women surrounded by support and friendship and alternative activities will, in most cases, not become so absorbed with gaming that they miss out on “real life.”
Frank (sydney)
@Mandy Foster - very interesting - first time I've read this - addiction occurs in isolation ? fascinating - a whole new paradigm I hadn't thought of - thanks for that ! it certainly fits with the lone shooter who generally emerges from long periods of being alone in their bedroom staring at a screen. to what extent they first stayed in their bedroom because they didn't play well with others - miswired behaviour, etc. - would be interesting to research. typical post-event reports of mass shooters seem to be that they were loners, strange and asocial who didn't play well with others. but don't want to post that as a determinant - here I am an introvert - alone, strange and asocial - but yesterday I had great fun playing well with others.
Larry (Idaho)
@Mandy Foster Thanks, Mandy, for pointing out this critical point.
kckrause (SoCal - CBad & LA)
@Mandy Foster Yes! Yes! Yes! Our 10yo son can be quite introverted (like me - his dad!) & plays a lot of video games - sometimes more than I would like. Yet, he has 4-6 good solid friends he socializes with after school/weekends - goofing off, skating, laughing, surfing, building, basketball, etc. & playing video games, often online with them. The difference is he sees them in person as much or more than online. We are very fortunate!
Danny M. (Texas)
I am a teacher co-sponsor for one of the largest High School eSports clubs in my state. With the growing legitimacy of professional competition, creation of college teams, and scholarships available to eSports players, we are trying very hard to use video games as a source of positive development for high school kids. I want to acknowledge that this article specifically mentions many games that are not considered part of eSports. I too have seen the negative consequences that games (especially RPGs) can have on people, and I think there are serious problems with the concept of trying to create a reality for oneself that is perhaps better than their real one. That being said, our eSports club and teams have seen some seriously amazing results. UIL-style grade checks for competition eligibility are keeping more students dedicated to their studies similar to students who play traditional sports. The multitude of leadership roles available for students has built accountability as well as social skills. Healthy competition provides a way for students to grow and develop as a team player or on an individual level. As big of an advocate as I am about the positives of video games, there is no doubt that many people will struggle with them in devastating ways. If we can create a shift in video-gaming to lead to more self-improvement avenues instead of self-destructive ones, I think we will see a decrease in overall addiction and even an increase in human interaction.
Allen (California)
@Danny M. These days through a popular revival, Dungeons & Dragons is celebrated as an imaginative RPG of cooperative fun and problem-solving for young and old alike. Your second paragraph takes me back to my youth when it was stigmatized for turning kids into psychopaths possessed by demonic spirits. Of course it was all bunk, fueled by fear and a few cases of mentally unstable people taking the game too far. The kind of role-playing that was being done in your nerdiest DnD campaign didn't even begin to approach the level of "building fantasy worlds" that existed in a typical theater acting class. However no one was suggesting we slap warning labels on college theater department doors. Just because we change the medium of an RPG to a computer doesn't make in sinister all over again.
Danny M. (Texas)
@Allen I guess I could have expanded on my statement about RPGs. I think it is safe to say that there are definitely those who will let those kind of games control their lives, but they are absolutely the minority of players -- a very small minority at that. As an English teacher who also plays those kind of games, I absolutely see the value that RPGs have in regards to storytelling and world-building. I'm an advocate for all games, but my previous statement to help build credibility was poorly worded.
Pumpkin (NJ)
I think most of addictive games are online multiplayer games that you play with or against other players. That's why I only play solo games on console and I am immune to be addicted. When you finish the game, it is over and you move on with other activities in life but you play endlessly with multiplayer games.
BT (North Carolina)
Hmm, I’m not so sure. I started playing video games in the 80’s on an Atari. For me the addiction came from wanting to beat the game. Every game. I sat for 8 hours straight playing Pac-Man until I beat it... and then it just went back to zero. Waa?!?! That was what actually cured me. I realized what a colossal waste of time it was. My back hurt and I knew it was terrible for my body. I put the Atari away and stopped cold turkey. Then many years later, Myst come out. I started playing it in the morning and when I looked up again, it was dark outside. It was like I entered a trance. Luckily I had the same realization and just got rid of it. Never bothered playing anything since. Life’s too short!
N. Wallace (California)
@Pumpkin Multiplayer games can also foster community. I belong to one of the largest LGBTQ+ free companies (guilds) in Final Fantasy XIV. We have events ranging from in-game Pride parades, trivia contests, helping each other run through content, and physical meet-ups. One of the most moving and memorable events I participated in was an in-game vigil for the victims of the Pulse massacre. My physical disabilities made it difficult for me to attend a vigil in my city, but through the game I was able to share my grief and mourn with other people. The picture is much more complex than this article suggests.
Lawrence Siegel (Palm Springs, CA)
Your readers must remember video games began as coin operated machines. The coin amusement business began at the beginning of the 20th century (pinball et. al.). The people who were involved in the manufacture of those machines always had one thing in mind, REPLAYS. The video game business was developed by people with the same objective. Make the customer want more, give him almost what he seeks, seduce him with the promise of success soon. The evolution of home video games began with Mattel and Atari. Toy and coin op merged for home use. What exists today is a logical extension of how things began. Of course video games are addictive, they were designed that way from day 1. This article is less of a revelation, than an admission of naiveté.
Frank (sydney)
@Lawrence Siegel - yes - designed to be addictive - could almost describe any marketing - keep them coming back for more - repeat sales being the essential aim. And like most marketing - it ain't gonna work for most people, so all the effort goes into finding the minority that will buy. a maxim I've heard from advertising – half of the cost of advertising is wasted, we just don't know which half ! Remember how ineffective scattergun marketing costs were seen to be before google ? Restaurant brochures in your letterbox ? Now 'thanks to google' - ads for stuff popup as soon as I have browsed or searched for that kind of thing - I read each person's metadata (usage records) are sold for about $1000 - not sure if per year - and that's an old number so may be more now ...
Vstrwbery (NY. NY)
Anytime there is a feeling of pleasure, there is the possibility of choosing that over having a real life (and real life is meaning inducing but not pleasure inducing in the same way). This is not an addiction though and the use of medical terminology is irresponsible. The ask for sympathy for every issue nowadays is tiresome. It’s called “someone chooses to play video games all day long” not gaming addiction. The bleeding of medical terminology into every day vernacular disrespects real medical illness.
Zoe (AK)
Some commenters mentioned habit-forming vs. addictive. Is it an addiction if you can walk away and still do your basic life functions - go to work, school, pick up groceries, pay your bills, etc - but you devote almost all of your free time to games? Does TV fall into the same category? Does FB or YouTube? Not to say it’s not a problem, or that some people may truly be addicted (as described in this article), I just feel that games and gamers get a bad rap.
Angel (New Mexico)
It crosses the threshold from hobby to addiction when it begins to disrupt or interfere with that person’s life and daily functioning. If it’s affecting their education or employment, it is likely an addiction. Actually, when it begins to affect those around you, family and friends, too, it has become an addiction because it is also affecting their lives in a negative way (distressing to them).
Amy (Iowa)
Thank you for publishing this story, and for taking seriously the emotional lives of men.
Joe (Chicago)
What happened to those days when you used to come home from school and then run around outside with your friends until dinner? Now, parents are so scared of what "may be out there" they don't seem to mind kids tucked away in their basements all day. You have to balance the computer time with some physical activity or we'll all end up like the people in Pixar's "Up."
Frank (sydney)
@Joe - and new recommendations are 2 hours running around outside to reduce the risk of myopia in children - I think I read 70% in Taiwan in childcare I see the rule outside time first, then later computer time as a maybe - often kids enjoy socialising so much from the outside time they are not interested in computers then - only when they're alone.
Mshoop (Washington)
Heck yeah, you can, but what fun. I started playing in the 80's before going to work the night shift at Intel. Galaga, Frogger, Joust, Galaxian, just to name a few. Not many 20-something females in the arcades back then, I didn't care, I was having fun. Fast forward to the 1990's, in came Wolfenstein. One day in particular, on my day off, I played Wolfenstein for 12 hours straight. I ordered in pizza. When my husband came home from work, I was surprised that 12 hours had passed, I thought it was 2-3 hours. Fast forward again, and once or twice a year, I go to a local arcade that uses quarters, not tokens, just like the 80's. They have all my favorites. What is best about going , is seeing the young kids playing. They're not addicted, they're having fun and it's a cheap way to spend a few hours with family.
woofer (Seattle)
Programming is programming. Brainwashing is brainwashing. If labeling it "entertainment" actually changes anything, it would simply be to reduce the subject's conscious resistance to manipulation.
John Fox (Orange County CA)
Games are deeply addictive. They checkmark every box for addiction -- playing without pleasure, compulsive, making you avoid other crucial aspects of life (sleeping, eating, socializing), and brain-altering. It makes you wonder why we are raising an entire generation in schools using video games. Schools are essentially training children to become future video game addicts.
Frank (sydney)
@John Fox - and yet - I have no interest in gaming. I suspect addictive triggers only work on people susceptible to addiction. Decades ago in Malaysia I tried smoking opium - woozy, if I recall affects the body not the mind - I queried 'isn't it addictive ?' - the guy said 'I've been smoking it for 30 years and I'm not addicted' At the time that sounded strange to me and I thought that nonsense - but I've never tried opium again, not interested, like other drugs - yeah wow but no thanks - so I've finally figured what he meant - he's not an addictive type, neither am I. So the worry is the minority who are addicts - sex, drugs, rock'n'roll - it'll be the ruin of the younger generation - except I survived - I don't remember the '60's tho ... anyone ?
KL Pawl (NH)
Don't people obsess and spend enormous amounts of resources on lots of pursuits? Attend every soccer camp? Collect every new American Girl doll? I worry when it leads to social isolation; not when it just takes a lot of time.
S (East Coast)
This was a very level and instructive article. I do wish the rise of esports had been mentioned - maybe another article?
JPM MD, PhD (San Luis Obispo, CA)
My impression is that most articles about video gaming which are aimed at the non-gaming audience promote a negative perception since that audience tends to be most receptive to that message. This can certainly create an inaccurate perspective on gaming. While it is impossible to deny the destructive rabbit hole down which a subset of video gamers can fall, I would reiterate my previous argument that susceptibility, in the form of independently developed and likely preexisting psycho-social disorders, are at at the root of such problems. I would also point out, that the same rabbit holes can present in association with a very large subset of recreational activities available in the modern world. A recent study supports this view (
Paul (Los Angeles)
@JPM MD, PhD Please don't dilute the power of this article and the very scary reality of clear addictive gaming behavior. These games are uniquely addicting compared to most recreational past-times BECAUSE they allow escape from "preexisting disorders" creating in the user a separate problem.
David Devonis (Davis City IA)
Thank goodness I'm too clumsy to play them.
Murray Bolesta (Green Valley Az)
Save yourself and the planet: live simply, modestly, naturally, peacefully.
Marti Mart (Texas)
I think it is a gateway drug to doing absolutely nothing with your life....
smoores (somewhere, USA)
I didn't have time to read this article. I was too busy playing Mortal Kombat.
Broz (In Florida)
I am an addict. Total abstinence since July 16, 1970 (not a typo). In recovery since joining a 12-step program on July 26, 1970. I have continued with meetings coupled with being of service to focus on two goals, not to gamble one day at a time and improve my life. My emotional disease is also psychical, all consuming and is depressing while being exciting and (sometimes) financially rewarding and ego boosting to "have the winner" and bragging rites. Gaming appears to have very similar problems as gambling. In gambling money is the vehicle that is the fuel and not the problem. The reward system in gaming is the "money" associated with gambling. This article is well researched and presented in a way that will lead to help and understanding of this blossoming problem/addiction. I wonder if gamers will "graduate" by taking more risks for bigger rewards by using real money? By the way, I have never met a gambling addict that started gambling with vast sums but gradually or quickly gambled larger and larger sums over time. Gamers probably did not start gaming 10 -12 hours per day in the first phase of playing video games. I just searched for 12-step programs (based on the Alcoholics Anonymous program) and found an info site at: Today I am eternally grateful for Bill W and Doctor Bob and July 10. 1935 when the word "We" replaced the word "I" and surrendering proved to be a strength, not a weakness. With serenity.
tom harrison (seattle)
Forget video games. How do I get over my need to post to the NYT comments day after day? Or do that dang little mini crossword? And forget life without at least two double tall mocha breves in the morning. Or Survivor on Wednesday nights. Or checking the paper first thing in the morning to see if Trump resigned yet. My countless addictions protect me from goat yoga and hours in the gym listening to men grunt as they drop weights on the floor to impress me with how much they can pick up.
Frank (sydney)
@tom harrison - I'm addicted to food - I have to eat it three times a day. easy to mock - if it's only 1% of the population that are really addicts, there's the problem Personally I'd worry more about the 6% of managers who are sociopaths I made up that number - 85% of statistics are made up on the spot - it could be higher - how many of us have worked for nasty bosses - I hope it's not 100% ! ;-u
Paul (Ithaca)
I think my wife is.
James S (00)
No one ever talks about music or film or television or literature addiction. Some people spend most of their free time indulging one or more of these media, and yet no one ever calls it addiction these days generally because video games carry a social stigma that other activities and art forms don't. If I come home from work every day and watch four to five hours straight of 1960s art films, people will consider me a film buff, not an addict. If I'm engaged in the solitary activity of reading fiction for 20 plus hours a week no one is going to call my activity into question. Yes, playing video games 10 hours straight is probably not great, and there are outliers for whom gaming is a serious problem. But we should also recognize that some art and media get a free pass while others doesn't. What is binge-watching a television show all weekend if not "addictive" behavior? The reality is people view games as a lower form of entertainment so are quicker to fish around for signs it's a potential vice.
qu (Los Angeles, CA)
@James S I agree completely. And while binge watching a television show, even with another person in the room, is largely passive, playing a social video game is anything but. While there are certainly people who play to the point of self-harm, there are many, many others who use them as a form of escape, as way to casually hang out with a social group, to develop leadership skills in a safe environment, and overcome crippling social anxiety. I say these things from personal experience. Gaming has changed my life for the better for letting me explore social situations I couldn't try out in real life.
Angel (New Mexico)
If being a “film buff” results in any dysfunction and/or stress (to the person or his or her family/friends), then it has likely crossed-over into addiction. Really, any hobby or interest can eventually become an addiction.
Darin (Portland)
@James S If I recall correctly television addict was a serious issue discussed a lot before gaming became so popular. I used to watch 5~8 hours of TV per day. Thankfully I don't anymore. When working my ideal schedule I used to game for 3 hours per night 12AM to 3AM) then wake up at 7 or 8 and watch movies until 11 when I went to work. Now I'm on track to read 50 books in a year. I make no secret of the fact that I have multiple addiction/obsessions. Fortunately for me, they all compete with each other for my time so no single one takes over my life. Oh yeah, and I own over 100 board games and play them every chance I get. I also own over 1000 video games and hundreds of movies. :)
TW (Portland Oregon)
I think there is too much argument on semantics. Addiction -- not addiction....The real argument is on whether a given individual is playing video games to such an extent that it is having a significant negative impact on the other parts of their life. I disagree with Mr. Przybylski in comparing it to other activities (running, fishing, baking). Playing video games is inherently isolating and nonproductive. I play some games in moderation - so I'm not purely anti-gaming. But if it reaches the point where it impacts your life you should cut back; if you can't do this without help then get help. Whether this fits a particular person's definition of addiction is less important.
James S (00)
@TW Reading great works of literature is isolating and any related productivity is largely subjective. I get what you're saying about moderation (it's true!), but any deep dive into literature, music or the arts is similarly unsocial. It really comes down to what the person is actually getting out of it.
qu (Los Angeles, CA)
@TW Gaming is not necessarily socially isolating. During some very hard times in my life it's been my gaming community that's supported me best.
Dev (New York)
I see a lot of adults saying, that they play and it’s not a problem for them. It may very well be so. But I question if kids should be spending 10-20 hours a week playing video games, making it by far their main activity outside school (and no I do not believe that time spent on television is better, as we used to do). But here’s another problem with gaming. I used to be a compulsive gamer my self, borderline to the stories described in this excellent article. If you spend 3-4 hours a day gaming, you’re also going to think about that activity when you’re not gaming. It’s what’s going through your mind when you’re falling a sleep or you’re sitting on the school bus. Contemplating on what’s important to you, school, sports or music is a way to solidify your learning. That’s how you memorize or come up with creative solutions to problems. Someone who spends 15 hours a week gaming, is really only going to think and talk about gaming. As that is the main hobby. That is almost like a stalled development on a kid that should be thinking about school, music band, sports or love problems. What are your hopes and dreams, plans for future? Instead they’re sitting around thinking about the next level on Fortnite. That is going to end becoming a very shallow and unmotivated person as an adult.
N. Wallace (California)
@Dev I spend well over 15 hours a week gaming. I do think and talk about gaming a fair amount, especially because I write fan fiction about my game character. I also spend well over 15 hours a week watching baseball during the summer. I think and talk about baseball a lot. I spend an inordinate amount of time reading the news and political blogs, and I wish I didn't spend as much time thinking and talking about politics as I do. It's "normal" to be a sports fan, though; and reading news liveblogs of the latest Brexit developments just means I'm "well-informed". No one thinks I'm shallow and unmotivated for enjoying those things, but somehow, gaming is different.
Florence (Albany,NY)
Agreed. Most active Alcoholics also say they don’t have a problem, or that they can handle it, that it’s not hurting anyone and of course they say they can quit whenever they want. But, we know that none of that is true. When a person spends most of their time engaging in the behavior or thinking and plotting when they can next engage in that behavior, there is a problem.
Jen (Seattle, WA)
Can you be addicted to video games? Yes. I've had patients who don't eat, don't sleep, don't go to school or work, because they can't stop. That seems pretty clear to me. What I don't think is as clear is where to draw the line. If a teenager likes playing video games more than doing his homework, there are a lot of possible factors involved. If someone has the majority of their friends online in gaming communities, that's not necessarily harmful, depending on the situation. I think everyone agrees that if you are not engaging in basic daily life activities because you can't stop playing games, there's addictive behavior involved. But if you prefer to stay in a dark room playing games all of a sudden, video games may be the symptom and not the cause. The more this is legitimized, the more we can research!
Frank (sydney)
@Jen - 'if you prefer to stay in a dark room playing games all of a sudden, video games may be the symptom' are you suggested trauma as a cause of addiction ? my theory suggests trauma may trigger the first evidence of addictive behaviour in already-existing genetic addictive types. I suspect kids bullied at school for being different, overweight, autistic, whatever - and lacking social confidence at home - may tend to hide in their bedroom and get onto games as a hiding place. Yesterday at childcare I sat and played Monopoly with a tiny ?5yo girl who had 2 older sisters who are all strong confident social types (used to fighting each other?) - she amazed me with her social confidence - knowing when to play by the rules to keep me onside, and when she could break the rules, and still have fun with me - at one stage she shouted 'I don't CARE !' - just like her oldest sister used to. I expect her to be a total success in life.
Don (RI)
A big gamer myself. People can be addicted to many things that are not of substance--shopping for example. Sometimes people spend money to exhibit a small amount of control over their lives. I think video games have a similar effect. They are a short term coping mechanisms that let players escape from real life. Often times they require intense concentration creating a mental shell that is tough for the troubles of life to penetrate. A numbness while playing. Like any other coping mechanism they CAN integrate so much into everyday life that they become unhealthy. I don't know if addiction is the right term, but an obsessive compulsion perhaps may be a better way of thinking about it.
Stanley Gomez (DC)
The word 'addiction' has been used rather capriciously recently, attached to items like food, videos or THC. In support of accuracy I think 'addiction' should be reserved for activities or products which cause physical withdrawal symptoms, such as opioids, alcohol, tobacco, meth, etc. 'Compulsion' would be a more accurate term to describe behavior associated with video games.
julia (USA)
@Stanley Gomez Whatever the behavior is called, when it consumes one’s daily life it is obviously an escape and as such can only be unhealthy.
ACL (Seattle, WA.)
@Stanley Gomez Addiction is compulsive behavior.
Tinker (upstate ny)
@Stanley Gomez problem is, the word "compulsion" isn't right either, because it implies that one feels compelled to do something that one does not want to do, in other words it is "ego dystonic" -- whereas gaming (at least at most of the time) would seem to be an "ego syntonic" activity: one that you want to do, and enjoy doing.
Richard Frank (Western MA)
The W.H.O.’s decision has received substantial pushback, in part because the modern meaning of “addiction” is an uneasy amalgam of several contradictory legacies: a religious one, which has censured excessive drinking, gambling and drug use as moral transgressions; a scientific one, which has characterized alcoholism and drug addiction as biological diseases; and a colloquial one, which has casually applied the term to almost any fixation. If gambling can be an addiction, then so can gaming. It’s easy enough to distinguish between biological addiction and social addiction but that doesn’t mean both don’t exist and that there isn’t a common underlying personality disorder. The test is not so much the cause as it is the consequence. Gaming like gambling can be life disrupting and the individual’s inability to change behavior despite serious disruption to his or her life is what we need to focus on.
AutumnLeaf (Manhattan)
I am a big gamer. I have put thousands of hours both on single player games and on-line ones. I thought I was spending too much time in my computer, but then I started watching players whose level was at least four times mine. I calculated the amount of time they played the same games and wondered how can you do that and have time for work and a life. I have a very healthy married life, I dine with my wife at home most nights, go hiking on the weekend, visit my mom and dad every weekend, and put some time in my game on Sunday as she is away at work. I can tell you for a fact, you can be addicted to a game. It’s like the Matrix, or Player One, you get to ‘be’ part of a world that otherwise does not exist. You end up interacting with others and soon enough you log on looking for your friends and go exploring ‘other worlds’. Just like anything, you have to take it in moderation and don’t forget you have a real life too. And enjoy your game, after all, there are worse things to become addicted to.
Viv (.)
@AutumnLeaf Given the insane amount of money people can spend on game tokens, I'd say going broke because of gaming is a real possibility for people who are addicted to games. Take the Pokemon craze. It's huge that 45% of their users have income less than $50K, and still spend money on the game. These things seem to work by the Pareto rule - 20% of their users give them 80% of their income.
julia (USA)
@AutumnLeaf There was a time when it was assumed that smoking (nicotine addiction) was less serious than alcoholism, so could be acceptable. Many alcoholics smoke. Ask those who have been able to stop drinking but not smoking and they will probably tell you the latter is harder. So the argument that “there are worse things to become addicted to” is merely an excuse to avoid facing the true issue.
SAT (port angeles, WA)
actually no, hard drugs are much worse to be addicted to than video games.
cynicalskeptic (Greater NY)
It has already been admitted that game makers and social media developers do behavioral research in an effort to make their products more 'addictive'. There are other factors - video patterns, refresh frequencies and such that physically affect the human brain and induce hypnotic like effects. I suspect that far more is known about the effectiveness of such techniques than has been made known.
Viv (.)
@cynicalskeptic Exactly. All you have to do is look at their job ads and what they require. There's plenty where a psychology background is desirable, as well as past research to increase "engagement". They don't just hire programmers.
jhuashao (NYC)
@cynicalskeptic User Experience Designer here. I can confirm that part of the addictiveness of gaming can be attributed to how fluid these experiences are. Similarly to how Netflix employs their "auto-play" and "skip intro", designers meticulously find ways to craft more "frictionless" experiences. These design strategies are called "dark patterns" for a reason in the ux design industry. In an age of attention economics, corporations are fighting tooth and nail for milliseconds of an individuals focus. How does anyone stand a chance? Billions of dollars are invested into legions of designers, programmers, researchers, and engineers to manufacture these seamless, dopamine-flooding, digital experiences. The future will be pulled to refresh.
Frank (sydney)
@jhuashao - 'corporations are fighting tooth and nail for milliseconds' Years ago I read that a data centre was proposed in Iceland - apart from the cheap thermal electricity and less need for cooling, an important reason being mid-Atlantic location could enable sharemarket algorithms to get cross-Atlantic market updates a millisecond ahead of London or New York/Chicago - which could be worth billions in profits for sharemarket traders.
K Henderson (NYC)
Because the high experienced from a gaming addiction is not as great as, for example, the high one gets from hard drugs, addicted gamers move on to some other activity, and/or get completely bored with gaming. The high is not juicy enough. It could be years, but eventually they get bored. Truly 100% addicted gamers are VERY rare in my experience. There is usually depression involved. It reminds me of people who watch TV all day (to an extreme) but stop enjoying the TV and eventually many of them walk away from the TV out of boredom.
Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg (Washington, DC)
Jabr's piece should be required reading. Its thoroughly researched and brilliantly presented explanation of addiction provides us a guidepost in addressing our many rampant forms of addiction that have cost lives, productivity, and social cohesiveness. Addiction is, indeed, a behavioral disorder with complex origins. As a social engagement artist, I set out to learn about it so I could create art to decrease the stigma surrounding drug addiction. The hundreds of addicts I have interviewed in over twenty states have taught me that psychological injury underlies much of addiction. Digging deeper--because some people can withstand isolation, abuse, bullying, neglect without developing addiction issues--I learned that those whose genes render them more empathic and more sensitive to their surroundings are most vulnerable to this scourge. Identifying sensitive children early and protecting our youth from psychological injury will do more to protect our nation from the ravages of addiction than any wall, lawsuit, or social shaming.
julia (USA)
@Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg Bravo! It is indeed a social issue that so many forms of addiction have become so common. Scary.
Frank (sydney)
@Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg - 'those whose genes render them more empathic and more sensitive to their surroundings are most vulnerable to this scourge' reminds me of my first office job - managing pension payments to those deemed unable to look after themselves. mostly sent to people in hospitals and nursing homes and care institutions, but we would tend to see the alcoholics at our front desk. one guy - sweet, gentle, wouldn't hurt a fly - I saw as an example of your argument - too sensitive for the cruel world, he sought refuge in alcohol ...
QTCatch10 (NYC)
This is a wonderful article. I still don't think a very strong case is being made for video game addiction per se. It sure seems that, as some doctors quoted here say, video game fixation is a manifestation of something else, like anxiety. It's very hard to tell which one might be driving the other.
JDeels (New York, NY)
Great piece. I wonder if anyone would dare write an article that talks about big alcohol in the broad way they've just dissected video games - an industry designed to hook people, keep them addicted, and shame them if it becomes a problem because our society tells us it's something we should be able to do. An industry that, one could argue, is about connection, but that intoxicated connection is thin and shallow and not a replacement for real human connection. Sounds familiar to a group video game. After all, it's really the only drug we have to justify not taking. That said, I wonder if the portion of this article about the isolation of the American male is the gateway to dismantling toxic masculinity. Sucks that it has to be men's suffering that is the catalyst and not women's suffering, but whatever it takes I guess.
Frank (sydney)
@JDeels - 'I wonder if the portion of this article about the isolation of the American male is the gateway to dismantling toxic masculinity' I have read that after the US, Australia is the second most individualist culture. (Venezuala and Taiwan the most group cultures.) Australian males are also suspectible to 'be a man – be tough and don't show your feelings', strong and silent until they bash their loved ones. Highest rate of youth male suicide I believe. That's partly related to aboriginal cultures with secret women's business and men don't talk about their feelings either. By contrast in Germany and Australia I have seen groups of young German males living and socialising together. When I stayed in Munich and met young people I tended to be absorbed into their group. I could talk to the group, but attempting to talk to a female alone would be met with awkwardness. One time I liked a girl, she liked me, but said I didn't know her group, so she rejected my invitation. A group culture. In Taiwan at the dinner table with a group of friends, a new baby was simply passed around the table for each to hold and goo goo - the baby glowed - everybody enjoyed a turn - I loved that. When we go to dinner it is assumed that the invitee pays for the whole group. And will be invited again likewise by someone else in the group next time.
Christian (Oakland, California)
That I could use free time I would normally fill with video games to read this article proves I am not an addict. I am a male married retired homemaker, and have much of control over my free time and schedule. I also have a large amount of disposable time compared with people my age (46). I consider video gaming a hobby I engage with, in admittedly large amounts, no different than golf or watching professional sports on television. At any moment, I am able (and often choose) to put aside my gaming in favor of other activities (a regular almost daily gym class, outdoor activities, social interactions with friends outside of my home, etc.) without feeling frustrated by not engaging in gaming. Gaming is something I do to relax, to mentally explore different parts of my personality, and to stimulate my imagination and creativity. I play many kinds of games, exclusively games that don’t force or solely rely on an online-interactive component - instead, games I favor have strong storylines and plots, and visually appealing (admittedly alternative) realties. I do not struggle with depression or with social interaction. I don’t avoid people or appointments or responsibilities so I can game more. I manage to perform all my household duties, keep appointments, and get a full night’s sleep on a regular schedule and still game for multiple hours a day. I think addiction comes in many forms and is often a symptom of other serious issues, but I do not think gaming is inherently addictive.
not nearsighted (DC)
@Christian I am also a well-adjusted gamer. But I have come dangerously close (and perhaps crossed the line a few times) to being an addict in the past. "Inherently addictive" is beside the point, and really stems from the faulty comparison to chemical drugs that the article touches briefly on. Gaming is addictive for some people because it gives them things that they are not getting elsewhere. And there are a LOT of people like that out there. So yes, there is a gaming addiction problem, even though it is possible to be a gamer without being an addict. It saddens me a bit that the people in this article had to remove gaming entirely from their lives rather than find the right balance, but I get it. Once they've conditioned themselves to need gaming more than they need anything else, that kind of tug is always going to be there whenever they play. They're better off never gaming again.
Dev (New York)
I drink alcohol and have a productive life, doesn’t mean it can’t be a problem for others.
Frank (sydney)
@Dev - I gave up alcohol - my 2 low-alcohol beers a day habit - when I realised it was disrupting my sleep - finding I was waking at 4am on the dot every night - and the pot belly I couldn't get rid of. Now I sleep soundly - no more waking at 4am - and the pot belly is gone.
Kate (Texas)
This is a really nicely reported piece which no doubt exposes the trouble that some people run into with gaming. But this it's important to highlight that not everybody who is a gamer becomes an addict. My fiance spends a lot of time gaming but is super well adjusted, very successful at work and also very social. Most importantly, gaming is how he keeps in touch with a very tight network of friends who support each other through their lives on and off-screen. They also have supportive and meaningful relationships off-screen. While any entrancing passion can be taken to excess, it's important to highlight that it's not the only or inevitable outcome of enjoying such a pastime.
DB (Westchester, NY)
As someone who has, both professionally and personally, long been around people who are addicted to one thing or another, I found your article to be informative and thorough. The only question that came up for me was whether this particular addiction is found only among young white men as the article makes it seem. The article did briefly discuss why girls and women get addicted to video games at a lower rate, but no delineation was made among men of different ethnic and racial backgrounds.
PLS (Pittsburgh)
@DB I don't think girls are immune. I'm a middle aged mother of two and there is one game I love and can see the draw. I don't think I am addicted. The dishes and laundry are still getting done. I have other hobbies. But as a parent whose partner works a lot of evenings and weekends, it's easy to let a game fill those hours when the kids are in bed and it's that or TV. This has been said about other addictions, but it seems to be a lot clearer with game addiction: the problem isn't the game, it's the loneliness and isolation.
Peggy (D.C.)
@DB The article focuses on the young men whose families can afford to send them to rehab at $21K. Don't you think that might skew the demographics of what is represented here?
Thank you for this article! This helps my parenting perspective towards online gaming as my own sons grow up. The world is a different place and our kids have the whole world at their fingertips.
Frank (sydney)
@KATY - 'our kids have the whole world at their fingertips' watching a TV series about kids starting high school 'My Year 7 life' - um - 11-12yo in Australia - I saw one girl bemoaning that her parents had not blocked all her internet use - maybe because they thought she had become to dependent on it and too anxious she said her mum didn't realise that she was socialising - all her friends were on Instagram or Snapchat - and she was missing out on vital social connections - because her mum was worried about internet addiction or predators - aaargh the frustration ! she was now More anxious about missing out (the modern problem of FOMO) - but in the end it seemed to me she had inherited a genetic tendency to anxiety - she said her grandma had it too ...
Clint (S)
Have we forgotten that young people bond over difficult circumstances and succeeding together? I wonder if the appeal is getting those solutions over and over... Yep, so why is IRL better than it? Excellent article with good research background and I suspect we'll find behavioral addiction is real. As a "Gamer", like with cannabis and hemp, I am suspicious in giving the "holier than thou" any lever to choose how I live.
Peter (Valle de Angeles)
Excellent piece. And grateful for W.H.O.'s recognition, especially as global internet access redefines the level of associated risk.
Becky Campbell (Pittsburgh)
This is an amazingly complete picture and introductory article to a complicated sociological, psychological and physiological issue! We need this info out there for parents and grandparents! We don’t know how to help and we can see it in the pleading for more screen time in the lives of our young boys. We needed this info yesterday! I fear the kids who are just beginning these addictions are elementary age where Dr Freed says that it begins. Please don’t stop researching this. This is obviously the proverbial tip of the iceberg.
sparkysparky (Monterey USA)
My friends 19 year old works about 30 hours a week at Best Buy and spends the remainder of his awake time in his bedroom gaming. Eats most of his meals there too. He stays up all night and sleeps in till mid afternoon on his off days. Rarely socializes. I hear him yelling at the game so loud, sounds so upset. What to do?
Joanna (Albuquerque)
@sparkysparky This is exactly how my 27 year old nephew is with gaming. We live in a multi generational home, my dad, nephew & myself and are at a loss as to what to do. It’s especially depressing for my 91 year old father, we need help as well in order to help my nephew.
solow46 (Miami.FL)
@sparkysparky Show him this article and for your sanity you need to de-friend him
Stanley Gomez (DC)
@Joanna: Part of the problem is that this 27 year old has evidently not become independent yet. Do him a favor and kick him out.
Elmar (Berlin)
thank you for the amazing article and all the work and research you poured into it! awesome piece of writing and journalism!
Carlos R. Rivera (Coronado CA)
Yes, time for a big mandated government program created to provide care for addicted gamers (Hi, I am Bill, I am addicted to Ms. Pacman), start big suits against gaming companies seeking billions of dollars in restitution and massive punitive penalties. Ah, filling holes in government coffers to fill other holes, meanwhile, time for more serious problems than being addicted to games, like hunger, crime, climate change, etc., etc.
Peggy (D.C.)
@Carlos R. Rivera if a generation of men are addicted to gaming, they are not going to become adults that work to solve hunger, crime, climate change, etc., etc. What a waste of human potential, at a time when we need solutions most!
I can definitely relate to this article. Whenever I start playing video games I fall into this trance where telling myself I'll stop playing at 12am turns into 1,2, until finally going to bed at 4am. When I do stop I find myself irradiated and desperately wanting to play more. I think that much like drugs, everyone reacts differently, so as much as the industry wants to deny it, they can't hide the truth many of us face.
Frank (sydney)
@JM - 'Whenever I start playing video games I fall into this trance where telling myself I'll stop playing at 12am turns into 1,2, until finally going to bed at 4am' sounds like a tendency to addiction the zone of absorbed engagement a good thing for productive projects for non-productive distractions - um ...
Paul Shindler (NH)
Alcohol, like heroin, is physically addictive. Games are seriously habit forming. Huge difference.
JDeels (New York, NY)
@Paul Shindler That's your reductive conclusion of a complex and extremely thorough piece, one that dives not only into a toxic culture but how the brain itself is changed by video games, as well as an evolving understanding of addiction? Makes it pretty clear you didn't take the time to read it, or clicked on it with an agenda. This dismissal is defensive in a way that clearly has nothing to do with the article. Look to thyself, sir.
Broz (In Florida)
@Paul Shindler, How about spending 12 -16 hours per day on video games? Would that be physically addictive?
Richard Freed, Ph.D. (Walnut Creek, CA)
The beauty of this article is that it describes the very real human element of video game addiction. I am so thankful these young men got help. As a child and adolescent psychologist, I can say unequivocally that among my colleagues it's impossible to escape the destructive impact of gaming addiction on boys. And for parents who are listening, the roots of gaming obsession often begin by early elementary school.
Frank (sydney)
@Richard Freed, Ph.D. - 'the roots of gaming obsession often begin by early elementary school' I know a 5yo girl - just started primary school - who already has been spending up to 8 hours a day staring at an iPad compared to her two older siblings who didn't behave like this, she needs glasses already (too much close focus indoors, not enough time outside in sunshine) I suspect because she is a different personality who doesn't automatically relate so well to her two older siblings who do play with each other very well, she may seek refuge in a small screen as her relationships with her siblings are obviously not as good as they have with each other.
quidnunc (Toronto)
While I think this has correctly identified a topic that needs more investigation in difficult to investigate areas ideology fills the void. For example there are multiple likely alternative explanations to that tendentious economics article (supposing quality of entertainment or addiction is to blame for reduced labor participation) that doesn't conveniently absolve (libertarian leaning) economists of failure to adequately explain how people respond to incentives in labor market or moral hazard in favored policies.
James MD, PhD (San Luis Obispo, CA)
As a 70 year old (former pediatrician) who has enjoyed playing video games since the early 90's, I can attest to their more alluring aspects . As with any enjoyable experience, positive behavioral feedback loops (in he case of video games an intentional, if not necessary, aspect of their design) there is certainly an attendant enhancement of addictive potential. However, before tarring video games with too broad a brush, it should be noted that this article is most likely highlighting an extreme tail on the bell curve of behavioral response to video games. Almost any activity has the same potential for self reinforcing feedback loops, especially in the current corporate environment where product design is meant to foster as much recursive consumption (and associated profit) as possible. The real question is not whether some users become destructively addicted to video games, but is that likelihood significantly greater than for the near endless list of other activities available which are seemingly innocuous pleasures to the vast majority of participants, but can become become all consuming, destructive obsessions to the susceptible.
TE (Boston)
@James MD, PhD It is true that most video game players are able to enjoy games without becoming addicted-- just as it's true that most alcohol consumers are able to enjoy an occasional drink without becoming alcoholics. That said, I think it's missing the point a bit to counter that "almost any activity has the same potential for self reinforcing feedback loops." I'm sure we can all agree that alcohol poses a higher risk of addiction than milk, and it likewise seems to be the case that video games pose a higher risk of addiction than board games, or ballroom dancing, or gardening... or various other hobbies
Thomas (Hawaii)
I was 100% addicted to video games when I was 12/13. I would sneak on to the computer every night and play for hours. Luckily my parents wouldn't let me play more than an hour a day and eventually I moved on. I am still wary about playing too much.
Chris (NY)
Great article. I like the definition of addiction that includes behaviors. Well written, empirical, and the story of Mr.Bracke was gripping.
See also