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Kevin Bakker (right) helps young compulsive gamers at his unique clinic in Amsterdam. He says most young people aren't addicted to gaming, but compulsively game due to social problems.  (Source: BBC News)

Some gamers, like "George", one of Mr. Bakker's patients, find games such as Call of Duty 4 a convenient outlet for very real rage.  (Source: Activision)
Study hints that there may be a bit of exaggeration when it comes to gaming addiction

Recent studies have shown that 97 percent of children and teenagers in America -- the majority of both boys and girls -- play video games regularly.  Some experts fear that this feel-good recreational activity may give rise to a new type of addiction -- video game addiction.

Anyone who's friends with an extremely active World of Warcraft player may be familiar with the phenomena -- a tendency to spend more and more hours online every day and to withdraw from real world relationships in favor of virtual ones.  In some cases, gaming addiction has led people to die from physical stresses of gaming marathons, particularly in countries like China and South Korea where internet cafes are popular.  While few have hard numbers on the topic, many psychologists and medical professionals haven't been afraid to chime in on the topic and how widespread the illness might be.

Now one of the foremost experts in the field has come forward to say that some figures of the prevalence of gaming addiction are greatly inflated.  Keith Bakker, the founder and head of Europe's first and only clinic to treat gaming addicts -- the Smith & Jones Centre in Amsterdam -- says that while many of his young patients have a serious problem, most cannot be labeled as addicts.

He says that about 10 percent of patients respond well to a tradition abstinence-based treatment regiment, the hallmark of an addiction.  Many of these patients are cross-addicted to alcohol, sex, and/or drugs.

The vast majority of patients though show little response to the traditional addiction recovery programs.  The reason says Mr. Bakker -- they're not addicted.

He says that close to 90 percent of compulsive gamers, people with a serious problem affecting their lives, are not addicts.  Rather, he says they have social problems.  He describes, "These kids come in showing some kind of symptoms that are similar to other addictions and chemical dependencies.  But the more we work with these kids the less I believe we can call this addiction. What many of these kids need is their parents and their school teachers - this is a social problem."

The clinic, already a pioneer in the field, is now leading it further by developing a unique treatment regimen.  The regiment places compulsive gamers into simulated social scenarios to help them rejoin society and learn to socialize.

Mr. Bakker states, "This gaming problem is a result of the society we live in today.  Eighty per cent of the young people we see have been bullied at school and feel isolated. Many of the symptoms they have can be solved by going back to good old fashioned communication."

Thus far the treatment is working -- the vast majority of the clinic's patients have gone out and been able to live normal lives.

Who's to blame for this problem, though?  Mr. Bakker says that parents do indeed deserve the blame in some cases.  However, he aptly points out 87% of online gamers are over the age of 18.  After 18 he says, much like alcoholics, compulsive gamers must realize themselves that they have a problem.  However, for younger gamers parental intervention works well, he says.  He states, "It's a choice.  These kids know exactly what they are doing and they just don't want to change. If no one is there to help them, then nothing will ever happen."

Young people like George [name changed], an 18-year old who played Call of Duty 4 ten or more hours a day, are excited to finally find a place that is willing to look at their problem in a unique light.  Says George, "Call of Duty was somewhere I felt accepted for the first time in my life.  I was never helped by my parents or my school. At the clinic I also feel accepted and have come out of myself... I was aware that I played too much but I didn't know what to do. But it helped me because I could be aggressive and get my anger and frustration out online."

Aggression, both online and in games, adds Mr. Bakker, stems from social isolation.  He reminds psychologists and medical professionals worldwide, "If I continue to call gaming an addiction it takes away the element of choice these people have.  It's a complete shift in my thinking and also a shift in the thinking of my clinic and the way it treats these people.  In most cases of compulsive gaming, it is not addiction and in that case, the solution lies elsewhere."   

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what is the difference?
By Dreifort on 12/1/2008 1:47:51 PM , Rating: 2
According to the article, the rehab is more about social addiction (or lack of social participation) that draws kids to video games - especially online gaming.

How is this different than Myspace or Facebook?

Virtual friendships/social groups?

The only difference is you virtually mame/kill ppl.
And as witnessed recently, Myspace injuries ppl, just not virtually.

I know former Myspace user support groups exist. And it's openly acknowledged that Myspace/Facebook is an addiction.

If indeed the two platforms (social networks, video gaming) are both deterorating teens social skills - shouldn't they combine the two groups into one recorvery group?

Seems as if Mr. Bakker could work to solve two problems at once.

RE: what is the difference?
By mindless1 on 12/1/2008 3:56:53 PM , Rating: 2
yes in some ways social networking sites could have similar undesirable effects, but possibly not so much so because they are after all, socially oriented sites meaning there is still some attempt and limited degree of striving towards social interaction instead of away from it.

The idea that "it's openly acknowledged that Myspace/Facebook is an addiction" is not a proof that it is. People are stupid, they'll even call chocolate an addiction, compulsive obsessive disorders or even air "an addiction", instead of the proper clinical meaning.

Why combine two different groups into one "recovery group"? This isn't about trying to pack as many kids into a classroom as possible, it's about tailoring a program to the extent of drawing the attention of a limited group of people whose numbers fall within the capacity of the center to treat, and in the end most of the useful things accomplished are 1 on 1 not huddled in a group.

Mr. Bakker is not solving problems as some kind of generic topic, he's putting his own spin on the basic idea that stereotying conditions as being out of someone's control is not as effective as getting individuals, one at a time, to recognize they do have control over the choices they make.

RE: what is the difference?
By Shmak on 12/1/2008 8:52:29 PM , Rating: 2
yes in some ways social networking sites could have similar undesirable effects, but possibly not so much so because they are after all, socially oriented sites meaning there is still some attempt and limited degree of striving towards social interaction instead of away from it.

Many Massively Multiplayer games (the genre that feels the brunt of this "addictive" label) can be considered very social games. After all many of these games force you to play with others. I would also pose that the social aspect of these games is often the most addictive. I've heard countless players say that their online friends kept them coming back even when the game experience itself became tiresome. So, in some sense, the players have a virtual social interaction supplanting real world social interaction. This sounds quite similar to social networking sites to me.

RE: what is the difference?
By mindless1 on 12/1/2008 11:53:27 PM , Rating: 2
Not so much, because at least social networking sites seek to be a virtual representation of what one would act like in reality without social restraints, while virtual worlds seek to do the opposite, allow people to do what they couldn't in real life and that's why it is a diversion so many seek.

RE: what is the difference?
By Myg on 12/2/2008 5:13:39 AM , Rating: 2
Any expression of "socializing", be it on the internet or not; has social restraints.

The only question is wether the social restraints have been normalized based on people's concience and reason or basic shallow desires. You will find that most people who are real addicts/compulsive/emotional issues will fall into the latter group.

It would be ignorant to assume that any interaction between humans, be it limited or full is free of such elemental human requirements.

RE: what is the difference?
By Boze on 12/2/2008 9:31:50 AM , Rating: 2
while virtual worlds seek to do the opposite, allow people to do what they couldn't in real life and that's why it is a diversion so many seek.

Any MMORPG player who wants to be successful, and moreover, who wants to be successful is going to be a social maven. You have to treat people just the same in an MMORPG as you do in person if you want to succeed; I have seen this firsthand playing these games for the past 14 years.

I don't know a single guild leader who runs any sort of successful guild that doesn't have a knack for motivating and inspiring people, dealing with people (or being able to find and identify other people to help bridge this gap) - it is probably one of the most social things the average person will ever do.

Sure, you can do whatever you want in an MMORPG... and some people might, but usually these are people who have never played the genre before and they're generally unsuccessful relative to the game's own version of "winning" (conquering challenges, acquiring money, etc.). Every player I know who is "successful" in an MMORPG can trace it back to a mixture of skill, ability to work together with others, and being able to network. Being able to work with others and network are social skills .

RE: what is the difference?
By Noliving on 12/2/2008 5:42:42 PM , Rating: 2
All online and non online multiplayer parts of a video game all strive for social interaction rather then away from it.

"Let's face it, we're not changing the world. We're building a product that helps people buy more crap - and watch porn." -- Seagate CEO Bill Watkins

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