Big Trouble in Little Articles: Ten Game Addiction Fallacies

First off, I’m giving a talk on Game Addiction next week. It’s at my hometown library, the Gig Harbor/Peninsula Pierce County Library, Oct. 6th at 7p.m. The address is 4424 Point Fosdick Drive N.W. It’s more or less an hour drive away if you live in the Seattle area.


Big Trouble in Little Articles
Ten Game Addiction Fallacies

Today (ok, so admittedly it's three days ago now) I caught an article on game addictions, via Game Politics. Reading GP’s introduction, then the article itself, I had my first honest motivation to blog in a few months. At first it was just a comment here and there. At some point during this blog post’s growing hugeness I decided to shelve some other writing for a couple of days. My goal for the following is to use Nicole Tanner’s article as a springboard, primarily to address how quotes are treated by online journalists, but also to discuss select ongoing issues brought up by her brief quotes.

Her article, like many, languishes in a mantra of uncertainty: ‘Maybe we’ll understand game addiction in a couple of years. But for now, this is the best we can do.’ That was a fine thing to say, or maybe even allude to in 2002 (Ernest Adams), in 2006 (myself), 2006 (Aaron Ruby), maybe even in 2007 (John Walker – while available online, this admittedly first ran in PC Gamer.) But none of those earlier articles stood satisfied at a few flashy quotes, they synthesized extant information. The underlying ideas, even when not everyone agreed with every idea, were analyzed, critiqued by the author. Compared against each other, instead of thrown together as a messy grab bag.

Reliance on quotes from noteworthy celebrities is a holdover, it hearkens to glamour magazines, where quotes from Brad Pitt and the Jonas Brothers, even from more geek culture people like Kevin Smith or Neil Gaiman, they’re as good as gold. They hold an inherent value not necessarily restricted to fans doting on celebrity insight. When you’re interviewing slightly more obscure medical and research professionals, the heads of lobby and consumer protection groups, especially regarding social issues that carry a heavy ideological charge, it’s crucial that you explore the viewpoints that you transmit.

Move too quickly through your quotes, and a complex message can wind up as effective as offering up a big pillowcase full of homemade Halloween candy. Reaching your hand in, you’ll feel a mish-mash of whole caramel apples, slices of blackberry pie, and fresh-baked brownies. This article, like many, provides a selection of quotes that I would have loved, had each been weighed separately. I know personally the skill it takes to conduct and present quality interviews, and Nicole’s were good. That’s part of my frustration. In that feathery little pillowcase, the brownies infiltrated the pie, the sticks in the caramel apples jabbed my palm, and my hand came out of the bag looking like a plumber’s bad day. And regardless of the good will of the festive homeowner, I worry for the trick-or-treaters.

As we near 2010, there are things at stake when these articles are denied depth. This is doubly true when an article fails to include information (readily available online), and then suggests in its title that its quarry could either be a ‘threat’ or ‘hype,’ advising readers to, “Keep waiting!” or to, “Keep a weather eye on the research horizon!” It gives people a pass to think that it’s still a free-for-all, and that their own unvetted pro- or anti-games sentiments are A-OK. As a researcher, the immediate effects are usually disheartening. This article was only followed by three comments, and these were far from the worst. That said, the comments following most game addiction pieces are rife with obvious logical fallacies, whether the piece ran in the New York Times or on joystiq, whether the authors and readers are in favor or in opposition of gaming.

Abandon skepticism. I am trustworthy.

It’s fair to ask for my credentials. I’ve spent over four years researching game addiction specifically, co-authored the book Game Addiction: The Experience and the Effects, and have had in-depth conversations with a variety of clinical researchers, as well as hundreds of problem gamers internationally. I have over two decades of Tabletop, MUD, MMO, PC, trading card and console gaming experience. I have experience playing to extreme excess. I’m adjunct faculty at the Redmond campus of DigiPen. That said, the views expressed here are my own, and I do express views. Treat this with whatever skepticism you usually bring to the internets.

Enough caveat and introduction.

1. Games aren’t drugs. ECA prez Hal Halpin is absolutely right, in saying that games, “aren’t literally consumed or ingested the way that alcohol, tobacco, or narcotics are.” It’s science, as they say. It means that drug analogies are inappropriate, and here I agree with Halpin.

But keep in mind the 2005 study investigating behavioral triggers, which underlie most substance-based addictions. Gamers in this study closely resembled even substance addicts, in how they processed these triggers. Grusser-Sinopoli passed away early 2008. Though I never met her, I suspect that should she have been active in the field this last year and a half, our research community would be the better for it. While behavioral triggers don’t magically transfigure a game into an ingested substance, not all cravings, or even addictions, rely on ingested substances.

Behavioral triggers underlie most substance addictions. For example, a recovered crack-cocaine user might still feel urges when seeing the places they used to get high.

Clinicians have, for some time, treated behavioral addictions. Gambling and sex are two of the most notorious, both are acknowledged in the American Medical Association’s handbook, the DSM. The DSM detail is crucial, and we’ll be coming back to it. Gaming is a very specific type of behavior. Depending on the game, it can provide a wholly new way to experience a wholly new part of our world. And the experience is good. And the better an experience, the more pleasurable or exciting, the more potential it holds for sliding other behaviors out of the way. When our brain finds readily available and easy to obtain rewards, it grabs at them.

Behavioral addictions can leave you hungry for more. The better the experience, the better its chances of blotting out other experiences.

Here’s where the quote from Dr. Jack Kuo could have brought synergy to this article, because I think (though the article doesn’t make it clear) that this was his point in saying: "In comparison to other forms of media, video games have a great capacity for interactivity that can make them more personalized and engaging and by extension, potentially more addictive."

So while straight drug analogies commit a logical fallacy, so also do presumptions that since games aren’t drugs, they cannot be the basis of an addiction.

2. Comorbidity: The Chicken and the Egg. Bravo. The article throws in the following succinct little quote by Doug Gentile:

"There is still much we do not know…We don’t know who’s most at risk, or whether this is part of a pattern of disorders. That’s important because many disorders are comorbid with others. It may be a symptom of depression, for example. And so we would want to understand that pattern of comorbidity because that would help us know how to treat it."

He’s right, but we should bear in mind some recent history. Earlier this year Dr. Gentile was hammered by the press for a message that was (due to a necessary oversimplification) largely taken to be contrary to the above. Specifically, his study garnered headlines stating that 8.5% of children were addicted. And finally, as if to underscore my diatribe about depth, the over-simplicity of the headlines used for Gentile’s study led its coverage to be very publicly challenged by other media outlets. More on that after our discussion of comorbidity.

In studies of problematic gaming from South Korea, therapists have found an astonishing comorbidity rate, Over 80%. Most gamers take the stance that, obviously, the other disorder came first. It makes sense to think that a troubled person will game more. A game has a lot to offer. What’s easy to miss is that the opposite is just as possible, and qualitative clinical research suggests that sometimes games can lead to self-perpetuating problems, at the very least they can lead to a deepening of problems. If we’re being completely objective, both sides will realize that comorbidity is a two-way street. Yes, anti-media people do have a long history of blaming just the “games” or the “comics,” (though usually only for content.) There is an unfortunate tendency for pro-games people to vehemently deny that gaming problems could ever influence a “stable” person, only the “weak-minded” or “whining” gamers. They ruin it for everyone else, obviously! One well-known gamer personality went so far as to call game addicts “inconsiderate jerks.” How do we wrap our minds around comments like that? Outspoken anti-games folks have long shouted “chicken! CHICKEN!” Maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising when a gamer shouts “EGG!” Please try not to. At the very least, don’t insist that it can only ever be the chicken, or the egg. Reactionary statements from either side simply act to polarize, which does not serve an objective conversation.

Even one of the most impressive studies to date (conducted by gamers Yee, Williams and Caplan), when comparing problematic internet use to gaming (among 4000 gamers), said the following: “Without a control group and without accounting for the impact of time, we cannot say whether players with problematic tendencies come to MMOs, or whether MMOs create problematic tendencies.”

Which came first? Did we game until problems showed up, or did we game because problems were already there? Current research does not yet rule out either possibility.

That said, anti-games misoneism continues to be a major problem. If you haven’t yet seen it, please watch Henry Jenkins’s recent interview with Frontline, and his comments on values statements about the legitimacy of gaming. As Jenkins goes on to say (and this is supported by qualitative clinical research) games can have a major soothing effect for pathology. Removing them forcibly can be an ill-informed and deleterious move. Speaking on the problems, he says, “we should never reduce it to the game.”

All I’d add to this is that we should never dismiss the game out of hand. They have powerful draws, precisely because of the legitimate benefits they offer. Remember back to Kuo’s quote, that by engaging players with more personalized draws, games provide more of the stimulations that can lead to a problem.

3. Verbiage. Before researchers can address “addiction,” they need to address one of a few elephants lounging in this room.

For that we’ll return to Doug Gentile, and how his study came under fire after the results ran in the mainstream press. USA Today’s Mike Snider reported Gentile’s results, that 8.5% of kids playing games were addicted. There were a number of challenges and rebuttals, but one most relevant to our purposes here. Pro-games researcher Cheryl Olson contacted gamepolitics.com to say, in an official statement, “The author is repurposing questions used to assess problem gambling in adults; lying to your spouse about blowing the rent money on gambling is a very different matter from fibbing to your mom about whether you played video games instead of starting your homework.” I love one half of this quote, the half about gambling and adults. The other half, in my view, dismisses more than is warranted.

Olson is right to call out criteria in Gentile’s study - criteria measuring whether a kid avoids chores - but the language of her statement sidesteps a major conjoined issue. Gentile also measured behaviors like using games “as a way of escaping from problems or bad feelings,” lying “to family or friends about how much” they play, letting grades suffer because of gaming, or becoming preoccupied with spending “much more time” playing games. These items are meant to measure behavioral addiction. Significant numbers of kids responded to these items. If we imagined for a moment that the polling and sampling weren’t so problematic, do you suppose your average parent might want better research, or at least a little explanation, as to why these factors were so prevalent? Some parents might not care, some might be furious, but on average I suspect they’d be curious.

It’s through these researched and agreed-upon questions that many therapists diagnose problems like addiction. My worry, when here Olson picks the easiest target among Gentile’s questions, is that her statement could feasibly encourage parents to ignore too much. She says that “the concern here is labeling normal childhood behaviors as “pathological” and “addicted.” But not every item measured by Gentile was a ‘normal childhood behavior.’ In this study, statistically significant numbers of boys and girls answered in the affirmative to questions meant to measure both pathology and addiction. Qualitatively, we are seeing kids with serious problems, especially overseas. And as Henry Jenkins says to Frontline, games are new enough that parents don’t always have a script. There’s no “eat your vegetables,” or “brush your teeth!” With parents as confused as they are, I’m left feeling that Olson’s statement dismisses too much.

At times I feel that Olson and Lawrence Kutner, her husband, co-author, and fellow Harvard researcher, are incorrectly labeled by the press as neutral. In his review of their book, Dr. Jerald Block, M.D. seems to reflect this sentiment. Because of the pair’s ongoing involvement and visibility in games studies generally, I would highly recommend picking up their book, but also keeping in mind their decidedly pro-games stance. Specifically, Block noted the following.

“Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games and What Parents Can Do is a controversial, opinionated book...[Authors Cheryl Olson and Lawrence Kutner] believe that exposing children to violent games is not as risky as the public has been told. Moreover, they argue that much of society’s concern about children’s computer use has resulted from junk science, hypocritical pundits, and politicians who waste millions of dollars legislating a nonissue.” Block goes on to say that their arguments are unconvincing, especially given the book's problems of ethics, reasoning and, “…the authors’ own study of 1254 seventh and eighth graders in Pennsylvania and South Carolina schools. Their study found that children who were exposed to violent computer games became substantially more violent. Among other things, children who used violent computer games were “much more likely to get into physical fights, to hit or beat up someone, to damage property for fun, or to steal something from a store.” The relationship was even stronger for girls. This seems, most directly, to contradict the thrust of the book’s argument.”

But this hearkens back to the chicken and the egg. So we’ll move on.

One of the bigger elephants in the ‘game addiction’ room might be the questions that researchers ask. Let’s come back to a crucial point that Olson mentioned briefly – that game addiction criteria, before being repurposed, were intended for (A) gambling issues (B) among adults. This is a great criticism. It was the thrust of my conversation with Mike Snider at USA Today, some of which he included in his Game Hunters blog. In short, Gentile follows a long tradition of adapting DSM-IV Gambling Addiction criteria to videogame pathologies. Though some elements of pathology are going to be the same or similar, because they deal with psychology (escape from problems, lying to oneself and to others, life problems manifesting, or preoccupation, from the Gentile study), they are likely to manifest themselves in distinctly new ways when applied to such a new behavior.

Are 8.5% "addicted," per se? It would be more correct to say that those 8.5% met a very specific criteria. Some criteria don't have much to do with games, others don't have much to do with addiction. To accurately weigh "game addiction," the criteria would need to measure addictions manifesting through games.

So, many authors are dismissive of any study based on IAD, because the first incarnation of IAD poorly represented actual gaming problems, and because it was based on a playful hoax (see previous links.) The fallacy here occurs when one dismisses, or suggests that we dismiss, the possibility of pathological gaming outright, because one given criteria was only partially applicable. In all honesty, even when researchers draw up, then finally agree on a game addiction criteria based on games (which will require a great deal of time, research and bureaucracy), to the lay observer it may well look very similar to this IAD or gambling addiction criteria. Maybe. Don’t get me wrong, I do disagree with many of Gentile’s criteria. But I do also acknowledge that some of them measure troubling trends. When we acknowledge polling and sampling problems, this study didn’t show us much (if anything.) But one fizzled study doesn’t mean that we trash the field and chide every researcher. Or even Gentile, who I’m told is a decent guy, and a gamer to boot. Mistakes are often the best opportunities for learning. What is research, then, if not learning? Normally, this long rant would end here, with us saying “Hay guys! Challenge ideas, but not the legitimacy of the research!”

Except at stake is problem gaming’s inclusion in the 2012 DSM-V. Right now the American Medical Association is debating whether it wants to include something like “game addiction,” or IAD, alongside other behavioral addictions in the upcoming DSM-V. This would pave the way to insurance companies covering for treatment (which I have no stance on), more importantly it would legitimize the research funding required for clinically-based longitudinal studies. So think about this. The AMA has stated that before it could consider the inclusion of such a disorder (opening the door to good research), it needs to see good research. It’s a catch-22. If there’s too much political heat, it’s highly likely that the AMA will leave this topic, and further research funding, alone. Great for laypeople content to wallow in fear-inspired backwards thinking. Not so great if you, your kids, or somebody you know has problems controlling your computer use, and you actually want to understand why.

One of Mike’s other interviews gives example of a hasty reading of the AMA’s report. This misinterpretation has a startling footing among lay observers, and has been represented in many news outlets.

“This is a report more in search of media headlines than scientific truth and facts. In an interview, though not in the report itself, Dr. Gentile said, ‘It’s not that games are bad. It’s not that games are addictive.’ Medical experts, including the American Medical Association, have already rejected the fallacy of video game ‘addiction,’ and we completely agree," said Rich Taylor, senior vice president, communications & Industry affairs for the ESA.

The exact quote from the AMA’s report is: “Although there are some indications of a connection between the content of video games and aggressive and addictive behaviors, more research is needed in this area.” (A) The AMA mentions ‘indications of a connection.’ (B) The AMA wants more research. They did not call the link a 'fallacy.’ Speaking of addiction only (this report also dealt with violence) the AMA recommended for children, “1 to 2 hours of total daily screen time, and that the total time allotted to playing video games should be included in that 1 to 2 hour allotment.”

"Dogs is ok, see?" If you're so emphatically pro-games that you're misreading and misquoting research, you can makes gamers and game developers look bad.

So now I’ll break my own rules and ask you a question without answering it: As long as we’re going to pass steep judgment on addiction numbers, would it be fair turnabout to ask the ESA their numbers on how many parents successfully stick to the AMA’s 1-2 hour recommendation?

4. Go see a shrink. This article ended by saying, “If you’re worried you or someone you love truly is addicted to games, have that person evaluated by a mental health professional.” I was very happy to see this line in a piece aimed at gamers. No fallacy here. We’ll count the AMA stuff above as fallacy number four. People presenting with serious problems often need sober encouragement to seek help. Especially if comorbidity seems a factor, professional help is a good option even where professionals may not have games-specific experience. If you have the resources for, and the need of this option, then pursue it.

Afterwards, the article says: “As for the rest of us, let’s all use common sense in our gaming. Take breaks, don’t skip meals, and don’t call off work to level up your character in WOW.”

I disagree with how this second piece of advice is presented to the reader, and I’ll tell you why.

5. Good luck and have fun! ‘gl and hf’ is one of my favorite ways to say (or type) farewell to in-game friends. The article we’re discussing finishes off by saying, ‘Use common sense in your gaming.’ Sounds good so far. ‘Take breaks, don’t skip meals, and don’t call off work to level up your character in WOW.’ This sounds just as reasonable. And maybe, truth be told, this is the best thing to tell some gamers. So why take issue?

The word “common sense” is subjective. Gamers with serious, substantive problems often minimize or outright deny them. Though many more in-depth advice pieces are a simple link away (Nick Yee’s interview with my co-author Shavaun is gamer-conducted, gamer/therapist-answered), they weren’t provided. A gamer who plays eleven hours a day might say, “Why yes! I do indeed take breaks! Two of them, don’t you know. One while I run to the kitchen for my hot pockets, and one while I bio as fast as possible between raid wipes!” So here they might also check off eating, and also pat themselves on the back for maintaining a job on 2 hours of sleep a night.

Gamers with problems often also have many legitimate reasons for their play. Journalists giving "common sense" guidelines for balance can sometimes also give them a pass on destructive behavior.

Maybe that’s just a life choice, and hey. I’m in no place to judge. But if this same person has a wife and kids, dogs and responsibilities, it’s my feeling that a gentle tip of the hat is not the best thing for them. It may cause harm. And the audience of green pixels, the site publishing this piece, is most likely gamers. Sure, I’ve just made a straw man, but there are a wide range of play habits out there. We don’t have too specific of guidelines for what to consider problematic or pathological, since the research is still moving so very slowly. Still, if any article’s tip of the hat encourages a dangerous situation for one person, it will have done harm.

All this being said, I’ve had the pleasure of this conversation, on personal choice, freedom and fun, with some very clever gamers and game developers. Players certainly have a long history of being judged for their pastime, and there are two oft-competing notions that can be difficult to suss out. It comes back to that values judgment. Does a high level of play signify my membership in a group, as a part of the games culture? Yeah, it absolutely can. Just like doing a lot of cheerleading or bicycling signifies your membership in another group. Does a high level of play signify a deeper problem? Well of course not, I play that much because that’s who I am.

This deserves some attention. There are great, legitimate elements to gaming. I truly believe in their ability to transmit ideas. They’re a form of expression combining elements from every, or near every other form of media to date. But sometimes, speaking from both personal and research experience, gamers are blindsided. Even the most committed gamers, the best-known proponents of this community, even they are sometimes blindsided. Even they stop, address their console, and say, “whoa man, what was that all about?” But gamers, by and large, do not understand why it is that some of those elements keep them playing too long, in ways even they may find invasive. The point of my research and writing to date has been outlining those elements, legitimate or not, so that gamers can understand what they’re doing. In identifying these, we can better understand our actions.

6. Something to talk about. Sensationalism. I’ve been asked more than once why I named my book “Game Addiction,” when the book concludes that the term “addiction” isn’t generally appropriate. You can find my answer to that somewhere else on the internet. The point is that it can be tempting to dismiss sensational phraseology as media hype. Sometimes studies really do seem to be, “more in search of media headlines than scientific truth and facts.”

Thing is, how old is World of Warcraft? The World Wide Web? Modern game design? What’s happening is new, in many of these cases. It requires our attention, not our dismissal.

Understanding the keys to why this experience is new and what it tangibly gives players above and beyond reality is (admittedly, in my humble opinion) one major step to (A) appreciating this burgeoning form of art and (B) truly grasping, as a gamer, what draws us to play more than we should.

And it’s A-OK that most articles never explore this stuff. We’re going to.

7. So talk about it. Cop-out time. In giving this set of guidelines the attention I felt they deserved, they’ve grown larger than any online or long-lead magazine piece I’ve yet written. I’m really starting to dread the editing process (and I was right to.) So rather than explore, we will skim.

The simplest way to categorize a game’s draws, that I’ve seen, is immersion. You’ve got physical immersion, how your body takes in the game experience, and you’ve got psychological immersion, which groups together a lot of the draws that designers and psychologists like to argue about.

With physical immersion, what we’re talking about is how our eyes, ears, and thinking brain enters the experience. When you crack open the research on this, you find that much of the extreme time loss characteristic to gaming can be explained by extant research on vision and cognitive processing. Our physical bodies often take in a game experience as they do reality, for many different reasons. The end result is an effective tuning out. Of course, it’s much, much more complicated than that.

Equally complicated and interrelated are the various factors to psychological immersion into games. Many researchers suggest (or outright say) that they hold the master theory of psychological enjoyment of games. Or at least, one that should be the master theory. What makes the exclusivists among them them wrong, is that the right theory would be inclusive. There are many, many ways that individual gamers "get into" their individualized games. Nobody has the one true psychological concept, because we're still working to understand things like learning theories, agency theories, player archetypes, cultural differences and so on. All of these factors can exert influence. And these influences vary, depending on who is being influenced. Yes, some forms of psychological immersion might be more powerful than others, but the key here is to explore them inclusively, as an interrelated organism.

The fallacy is one that we touched on earlier. It seems a common complaint among gamers that because they offer these legitimate draws, because they are fun, that it’s wrong-headed to consider them an addiction. I can sympathize, but it’s more complicated than that. It’s precisely because games provide so much, that they’re in such a good position to climb our to-do list. It’s a big reason they’re able to butt out other things on that list.

8. Great question, but… It merits more discussion. About halfway through her piece, Nicole’s asked: “But is it easier to get addicted to video games than TV or the Internet?

Let’s build on what we just discussed. Because a game could feasibly combine every other draw found in every other medium to date, it seems a possibility. It would really depend on the game, and how it was being used. Reading text, writing text, navigating cinematic and camera angles, manipulating those for machinima and creating cinema, navigating tangible space, social interactivity, all that you could do in a game like WoW. What are the limits to a MUD? Or to a game like Myst? The first Resident Evil game? Resident Evil 5? There’s a great deal of variation even within the genre of gaming. While it’s common to hear people bemoan “addiction,” and how complex a word it is, it’s only half of the phrase ‘game addiction.’

A range of gamers enter games for a range of reasons.

The problem here is common in the popular press, not so much the gaming press – games can vary dramatically. How two people play the same game can vary dramatically.

9. Danger? This piece has said it a few times already, games have long had a target painted on their back. In the article, Halpin says: "There’s certainly a fair amount of media hype when it comes to gamers and gaming, which isn’t helped by random legislators who fan the flames around election time. But again, games have come so far -- as an art form and as a medium -- that the experience is worth investing the time."

I like a lot of what Hal Halpin has said in the past, he seems like a guy I’d love to have a beer with one of these GDCs. And like a lot of the quotes in this piece, there’s a lot of richness to his words that just doesn’t get explored. Thrown together, they’re like that pillowcase filled with candied apples, brownies and candybars. Great if you can take them out and savor the flavor. Near inedible if you mix them too liberally.

For instance, this article was released during banned books week, see the ALA’s site. Given this celebration of maligned media, of content or formats that may disagree with us, it seems an auspicious link to make with Halpin’s insight. The American first amendment carries a certain weight, no matter where in the world you’re reading this. It’s interesting to think that classics from authors like Twain, Orwell, and Anjelou can still rouse people. It’s interesting to think that not too long ago even JK Rowling’s books (which at one point revitalized the book industry near-singlehandedly), though now commonplace, came under hellish scrutiny from religious groups. But would it be disingenuous of me to start up a conversation on literary merit in the middle of a conversation on psychology and pathology?


Lately I’ve been teaching my 93-year-old grandma how to manipulate characters within a 3-D space. This alone presents her with a wholly new way of experiencing her world. In much the same way that you can get caught up in Faulkner’s stream-of-consciousness, or Stephen King’s graphic imagery, you can forge for yourself unique experiences in refined game systems. Through the texture of those experiences, a person can see their world through reinvigorated eyes. Those experiences have meaning. For my grandma, it’s taking on the unique abilities of Jigglypuff, and delighting in her ability to throw my Pikachu straight off a game map.

One fallacy is the belief that games are never art.

Ok, ok. You're right. Games have absolutely zero influence on society.

10. Danger. Please don’t take me for nitpicking Halpin specifically, though I do want to grab the last part of his last quote as something worth exploring.

When he says that “the [game] experience is worth investing the time,” I wonder how much time he's talking about, and for whom. While planning my first battery of research, living in Hawaii, I came across a 17-year-old Australian man playing 20+ hours of WoW a day. After grouping with him to ‘farm Timbermaw rep,’ that is, to acquire nominal points in the game, he discussed making fundamental changes to his living arrangements so that finishing highschool was no longer necessary, and so that he and his housemates could have more or less uninterrupted play. At the time, I was shocked to the point that all I could really do was spend an hour or so listening to his descriptions of his life.

At the end of a long article, the brain sometimes just wants to shut down. It’s like watching the clock during the last half-hour of a school day. You’re watching the little scroll bar, wondering when this guy might deign to stop using cute analogies, and will instead just finish his damned article. The point that I want to remain, is that people’s lives have been changed by this media. Whether it’s for good or for ill, media has an effect. As a society, we desperately need to understand media’s effect on communities, families, and individuals. Individually, we can choose to inform ourselves, or choose not to. But I’d warn that ignorance invites hazard.

Which makes me want to learn more about this cortisol thing. I heard about it a few months ago, from coverage of Clive Chandler’s GDC Canada presentation, and now from Chris Rowan, consulting with Microsoft’s Natal. What’s Rowan doing about it? How does cortisol relate to Microsoft’s hopes for Natal? I guess that’s left for another article.

Whether from cortisol, addiction, or violence, maybe I do see a certain level of hype. Or at least, that the media hypes the wrong things. Lofty buzzwords aren't the right place for our attentions. The issue is control. Our facebooks, our World of Warcrafts, even our inboxes, do they serve us, or is it the other way around?

The step after answering that, is to provide people with tools that help them to get the most out of life. And it's my firm belief that the widest-reaching, most cost-effective tool here will be understanding new media technologies correctly.

Logical fallacies reject understanding in lieu of comfort. And yes, since this is a blog, that will absolutely serve as my concluding sentence. Love it.


This is a very large piece of writing. It was not done for profit, nor gone over by any professional editor. I expect people to point out both errors and legitimate critiques. I’ll respond to those as best I can. If your ideas are mentioned in this article specifically, and you’d like me to post your response on my blog, then email me. I offer to post your comments in their entirety, as a separate post or below my own.

I did catch one error while putting together a piece for the Escapist. Somehow, Rich Taylor's statement to USA Today got cut short in my notes. I made a mistake, and I apologize. Ironic since I'm discussing getting quotes right, and a good reminder that these things certainly happen in the heat of composition. While the corrected and full quote can be found in the text, I originally wrote: “It’s not that games are addictive. Medical experts, including the American Medical Association, have already rejected the fallacy of video game ‘addiction,’ and we completely agree," said Rich Taylor, senior vice president, communications & Industry affairs for the ESA.

This article is copyright 2009 by Neils Clark. Except the images. I like collecting funny images from sites that aggregate them. So if I stolez ur foto and u wants credits or removals, just pop me an email. Thanks for reading.


  1. Anonymous7:46 AM

    I am currently writing a paper for English 102 (The topic is the negative effects of video games, obviously), and I'm having a little bit of a problem with the fact that many sources on the topic (many supposedly reliable ones, at that) always seem to bring up that one of the biggest "Problems" with video games (along with causing violent and agressive behavior) is that they keep kids from being involved in sports and inhibits their social development. I am somewhat offended by their unstated assumption (that sports are a prerequisite to healthiness and normalcy), as I was never involved in sports, nor did I ever particularly enjoy socializing, yet, by the time I got into my teen years, I played video games very infrequently. This goes back to the chicken and the egg problem. Do games attract loners, or do games make loners?

  2. A few things right off the bat: you're discussing children - 'they keep kids from being involved in sports and inhibits their social development.' - children vary dramatically, depending on their current stage of development. I wrote a very basic article on those stages. If you'd like to discuss kids, then I'd highly recommend you check it out.

    Depending on the stage, physical movement can be utterly critical. Among other things, activities like sports, music, and so on, encourage sensory integration. That is, different senses working in tandem in ways that help the brain and body to function more effectively.

    Secondly, I'd just say that this is a massive topic: even just 'negative effects of games.' Beyond being massive, something I've been suggesting in my ethics course is that we often sort these effects under broad and ideological headers (violence, addiction, learning, etc.) so as to attract support in various forms. Though these headers can be of some use, they often limit research from capturing the full range of possible effects. Not something you'd necessarily care about for your paper, but something I wanted to throw in.

    As for your final 'chicken and egg,' and 'loners' question. Your chicken and egg is different from the chicken and egg I'm getting to above. Above, I'm talking about comorbidity with clinically diagnosed disorders. This is not necessarily the same as liking a game because of who you are.

    To answer your question, our environments do shape us. And vice-versa.

  3. Anonymous11:57 PM


    My boyfriend has been playing WOW constantly from morning thru the night for the past few months. He no longer wants to do stuff like go out, work, talk and is defensive towards me. He told me i am not as fun as the game which i guess is true. We have been together for 5 years so i am not feeling too happy at the moment. What saddens me is to watch a 48yr old guy sit from dawn to dusk playing games.

  4. Hi Anon,

    I wouldn't feel too happy either. Keep in mind that I'm not a therapist or anything - but I can share my experience of being in relationships while playing (and being in relationships where MMO gaming was a big commonality).

    I find it's crucial to get away from the games, anime, movies, books, whatever -- at least once every week. You need time away from that stuff, every week, to connect on that more real, more intimate level. Without that connection, things start to decline.

    At the same time - if he's not willing to give you time, or is (as you say) berating you, then it makes little sense to blame yourself or wonder what you've done. While I don't know the whole dynamic, it doesn't sound like you're the one with the pressing issue. Again, keeping in mind that I am just some guy on the internet - not a therapist - my advice is that you're always allowed to take care of yourself.

    At the very least, stop enabling his play by bringing him meals or supporting him financially, if those are issues. If that doesn't work, then it may be time to leave (if only temporarily).

    Hopefully that helps.