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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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RE: Now we're getting somewhere
By Myg on 12/1/2008 8:31:35 PM , Rating: 2
This guy is dead on, being a former hard-core gamer for alot of my life; I can look back and see the effect its had on me and what I have missed etc.

Kudos for your clarity on this subject.

RE: Now we're getting somewhere
By Lerianis on 12/1/2008 8:40:28 PM , Rating: 2
No,he isn't 'dead-on'. The fact is that most gamers who are really 'hard-core' retreat to gaming because they do not like the outside world.
They have tried being in the 'outside world', have been looked down upon because they do not understand or do not accept the world like it is, and retreat to gaming and solitary pursuits because other people are always trying to force their 'morality', religion, etc. on them.
That is the reason why I ABSOLUTELY REFUSE to go outside to things with other adults, and spend most of my time at the local park hanging out with some young friends: because I understand them a whole HELL of a lot more than I do most adults, and they understand me a lot more than most other adults do.

RE: Now we're getting somewhere
By derwin on 12/1/2008 10:23:31 PM , Rating: 2
[they] retreat to gaming and solitary pursuits because other people are always trying to force their 'morality', religion, etc. on them.

What are you talking about man? Thats not the real world I live in. Yeah, its got plenty of sticking points, but seriously? That is called rationalization. It is a part of addictive behavior, although it does not imply adictive behavoir. If your mind is made up that you are going to do something, you will convince yourself you should, regardless of whether you really should or not.

RE: Now we're getting somewhere
By mindless1 on 12/1/2008 11:37:07 PM , Rating: 2
He's not dead-on, but his initial impressions before he tried to inject his own interpretation were mostly correct.

Yes, gamers retreat because they don't like the outside world (in some cases, not all, maybe not even most cases remembering that the majority of people who own a PC eventually find a game or two to play on it).

Whether someone retreats because of others forcing their ideas largely has to do with three things:

1) Being used to it. If you isolate yourself from this fact, instead of dealing with it as the norm, you don't build up coping skills, thick skin, self-identity, or whatever the popular term is at the moment.

2) The people at this place go there because they aren't confident their life has been what they want. Having that lack of confidence, they aren't as resistant to others trying to impose ideals upon them. They don't stand up for what they believe in so much because they don't have enough experience dealing with what negativity they will encounter when someone disagrees, and that will only come with getting away from the console, getting out there and talking their minds to lots of people. They may be genius, or idiotic, but either way will learn more from being among other dynamic people than from a pre-scripted game.

3) The reason why you understand certain people more is you spend more time with them. Granted, older people will do two things, try to idealize that because they are older, they are automatically wiser and you should be inclined to learn from them, but this is not so far from the truth (what did you ever really learn from playing video games compared to what you might have if out anywhere in public interacting with people who were different instead of like you?), and also expect you to do the same as they did and as society needs, that young people spend lots of time making the world a better place through study, through socializing if their career is aligned to that, through being out among other people so they have more awareness of what is going on in the world around them.

Remember something very important. In the blink of an eye years will pass and you will be one of "those adults" and the next generation will be looking at you for guidance. You will be in a leadership position of some kind whether you want it or not. If you retreat from it, that can make it harder, or embracing it through time spend out there in the world around diverse people can make a person well rounded and ready for whatever challenges lie ahead.

If you understand your peers, or anything really, it's time to move on!!! Next, confront the thing you don't yet understand. Refuse if you must, but remember is it your life and you will always grow more given new stimulus than the same old thing over and over again. Any changes you make benefit you, not so much anyone else.

RE: Now we're getting somewhere
By Noliving on 12/2/2008 5:30:29 PM , Rating: 2
I disagree with your #1. Again video games most of the time by research are shown to be played with atleast one other person. Most people who play video games do not play it by themselves. I disagree when it comes to thick skin and self identity. Considering all of the trash talk that takes place over the internet gaming and during living room game session you need to develop a thick skin. Your online personality and gamertags, etc are your self identity.

When it comes to developing coping skills, that is debatable as it involves more of your self independence rather then physical social interactions and just social interaction by itself. In fact the only thing that helps with coping skills that requires a socializing with others according to psychologists is having a good support system and that support system can be done through phone calls, emails, regular letter mail, internet, group therapy, exercising with others or by yourself etc. The rest of developing coping skills are things that the person has to do by themselves like having realistic expectations, just exercising even by yourself, Self-efficacy, the ability to talk yourself through challenges, relaxation(which is taught that the person is to be alone so they can get rid of all distractions).

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