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Gaming Addiction Yields Startling Statistics

by Rainier on May 24, 2005 @ 2:58 p.m. PDT

Psychologists and psychiatrists estimate that even before the new wave of gaming consoles hits the stores, one in eight players already suffers from some kind of video game dependency. Stories of neglected toddlers, sleep deprevation, suicide and marriages crumbling are not out of the ordinary anymore as more and more people are becoming victims of America's newest social scourge ... video game addiction.

There are few long-term scientific studies on video game addiction.

But the reach of the video obsession is borne out by the popularity of one online game "Halo 2." By early 2005, one million players, had staggeringly clocked up nearly 100 million hours on the game, according to industry figures.

Video gamers who take their obsession too far show symptoms similar to alcohol or drug addicts, says psychologist David Walsh, founder of the National Institute on Media and the Family in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

"Online games are the most addictive because of the tremendous peer pressure not to stop," Walsh told AFP.

"Very often, the rest of the group will threaten to kick you out of the team," he said, nominating the fantasy role playing game EverQuest, as one of the most addictive releases.

Walsh says a minority of gamers exhibit extreme symptoms : "A young woman admitted she neglects her baby, she lets her baby cry in the next room for hours, she told me how guilty she felt," Walsh said.

"A young woman divorced her husband because all he would do would be playing games. A man lost two jobs because of video games."

Walsh said children's lives can be overtaken by gaming, some of them putting in a horrifying 70 hours a week. One 12-year-old boy played all night until falling asleep at four or five in the morning.

"The mother said he threatens to kill her, or himself if the parents make him stop. The psychiatrist told the mom not to make him stop."

As casualties mount from the video game wars, self-help organisations are springing up like "Mother's against Videogame Addiction and Violence (MAVAV)" and "On-Line Gamers Anonymous" -- inspired by Alcoholics Anonymous.

Liz Woolley founded On-Line Gamers Anonymous in 2002 after her son lost a battle with depression and committed suicide. The boy was an enthusiast of EverQuest, one of the most popular games, alongside joyriding fantasy "Grand Theft Auto" and Socom, a war game.

Experts say adolescents are partly attracted to video games, as they become players thrust to the center of the action, allowing them to overcome a lack of confidence which people in this age group often feel.

"The feelling of mastery and control are additional elements likely to affect teenagers," Walsh said.

What are the classic warning signs pointing to addiction?

Typically, victims will spend most of their time at home, in their room, only coming out for meals or bathroom breaks, according to the MAVAV website.

Like addicts everywhere, the first problem for video gamers is admitting they have a problem -- most game players, when challenged insist they could stop at any time.

It's not just addiction that is a problem. There has long been concern at the impact on young people from the steady diet of often extreme violence flashing across the screen.

In a survey of 81 video games analysed in 2004 by a team of researchers at Harvard University and Children's Hospital Boston, 98 percent contained violence which amounted to 36 percent of game time.

Violent deaths were recorded among characters in 77 percent of games, at a rate of 122 deaths per hour. Ninety percent of games required players to kill or maim to score points, and researchers sat through 11,499 screen "deaths" in 95 hours of gameplaying.

Japanese giant Sony said this month that its PlayStation 3 games console would roll out first either in Japan or America next year.

Microsoft plans to put its new Xbox 360, which also had its first public sighting last week, on sale worldwide this Christmas.

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