Updated: 9:43 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 14, 2010 | Posted: 6:40 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 14, 2010

Gratification short-lived for gaming addicts

Experts: Physical, behavioral and psychosocial risks associated with overuse of video games.



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Gratification short-lived for gaming addicts photo
Daniel Petric is escorted from the court room after being sentenced to 23 years in jail by Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge on Tuesday, June 16, 2009 in Elyria, Ohio. Petric was sentenced Tuesday to 23 years in prison for crimes rooted in his obsession with video games with violent themes.

By Cornelius Frolik

Staff Writer

Quinn Pitcock, a Piqua High School graduate and All-American at Ohio State, said he quit playing professional football for the Indianapolis Colts two years ago at the age of 24 because of depression and anxiety.

During training camp with the Seattle Seahawks this month, Pitcock told reporters he coped with his problems by playing video games. He played them excessively and obsessively.

“I ended up using video games as my out, I got sucked into that,” he said. “I got lost to the world.”

The American Medical Association has not classified excessive video game playing as an addiction. But the AMA has made it clear there are physical, behavioral and psychosocial risks associated with overuse of video games, and new research indicates some gamers display serious signs of addiction.

A 2009 study by Iowa State University researcher and assistant professor Douglas Gentile found that about 8.5 percent of 8- to 18-year-olds who play video games display six or more pathological behaviors exhibited by pathological gamblers.

Friends, family, school and work relationships suffer from people’s addictions to gambling, drugs and alcohol, and the evidence suggests the same kinds of troubles occur because of some people’s compulsive video gaming habits, Gentile said.

“The kids in the pathological range were getting worse grades in school; they were more likely to have been diagnosed with attention-deficit problems; and, in other studies, they have also been shown to suffer more from depression,” Gentile said. “It’s not any one thing, but it’s part of a bigger pattern that demonstrates they are having a hard time keeping the games in balance with the other things in their lives.”

Gaming interferes with daily lives

Sarah Greenwell, a pediatric psychologist with the Children’s Medical Center of Dayton, said she has encountered only two children who were genuinely addicted to playing video games, meaning the activity severely interfered with their daily functioning.

Far more often, Greenwell said she consults with parents whose children’s gaming habits are hurting their socialization and negatively affecting their family lives.

The games often serve as their primary source of gratification.

“The games have built-in reward systems: They are about competition and about kids competing to win money, power, scores and freedoms in the game they can’t get in real life,” she said.

Greenwell said parents can and should restrict their children’s video game usage. Parents can reward their children with limited game time for doing their chores or schoolwork.

But children and youths represent only one part of the gaming community: The average age of video game players is 35, according to various industry sources. More than half of adults 18 and older play video games, and about 20 percent play games almost every day, the Pew Research Center reported in December 2008.

Some adults are perfectly capable of restricting or quitting playing video games on their own, and do so after noticing they are spending too much time with the joystick or after receiving pressure from relatives and friends.

But Greenwell said others may need counseling and treatment to overcome their compulsions.

Last year, Daniel Petric, the Wellington teenager who claimed to be addicted to video games, was sentenced to at least 23 years in prison for killing his mother and shooting his father after they forbade him from playing the game Halo 3, The Plain Dealer reported.

“Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge ripped the games’ violence and addictive qualities,” according to a Plain Dealer June 17, 2009, story. “In the days before the shooting, Petric, 17, played the game as much as 18 hours a day.”

Pitcock, who just signed with the Seahawks after a hiatus from the NFL, said he broke and burnt his video games and then sought counseling to help him manage his addiction. Only after doing that was he able to renew his focus on working out, conditioning and training.

Pitcock said he hopes to start a charity to help children who are hooked on gaming and bring attention to the problem.

Gaming addiction similar to alcoholism

But Gentile and others said many people are a long way from understanding that excessive video game playing is an impulse-control disorder.

“The state where we are with video game addiction is where we were with alcoholism 40 years ago,” Gentile said. “Forty years ago, there started being evidence that it looked like a medical problem, but people said, ‘No, no — it’s a moral issue. You’re just not strong enough to stop.’”

Liz Woolley, of Harrisburg, Pa., said she founded On-Line Gamers Anonymous after her son, Shawn, 21, who was addicted to the fantasy game, EverQuest, killed himself in 2001.

She said her website is devoted to helping raise awareness about video game addiction and providing resources to addicts. The site receives about 800 hits each day.

Woolley said her son’s addiction led to his death because of the sadness he felt when his computer game left him unfulfilled.

“He had already left real life, and so after the game let him down, I don’t think he knew where else to go,” Woolley said. “After he started gaming, he didn’t think about the future anymore ... his real life was so blank, he couldn’t go back to it.”

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-0749 or cfrolik@DaytonDailyNews.com.


Am I a compulsive video gamer?

Do you have trouble controlling how long you play video games?

Do you derive a sense of euphoria from playing?

Do you crave more and more playing time?

Do you feel empty and depressed when not playing?

Are you neglecting family and friends because of your gaming habits?

Is your school work or job performance suffering?

Are you lying about your playing habits to employers, teachers, friends or family?

Are you constantly talking about the game?

Do your gaming habits make you feel a sense of guilt, shame or anxiety?

Source: On-Line Gamers Anonymous

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