Internet Gaming Addiction: Perspectives From a Former Gamer

Image:Federico Morando “internet addiction”

By: Evan Sahn
After-School Counseling Program Intern


Internet gaming disorder (IGD) represents a relatively new and growing phenomenon in the fields of mental health and video games.  IGD is new largely because the ability to utilize the Internet to play addicting video games has only existed for about 15 years.  In many ways, IGD resembles more commonly known addictions such as substance abuse.  Like substance abuse, individuals suffering from IGD develop a tolerance to playing the game and need to play it more and more.  These individuals will also develop withdrawal symptoms when Internet gaming is taken away.  These individuals may also have unsuccessful attempts to cut back, lose interest in hobbies, conceal gameplay from friends and family, and use games to escape or relieve negative mood.  Significant relationships may also be put in jeopardy as a result of gameplay.

Internet games themselves are diverse in terms of how they are played however Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG) (e.g. World of Warcraft and League of Legends) and first person shooters (e.g. Call of Duty) are among the most popular culprits.  For this blog, I will be talking about the former (MMORPG).  If the reader takes one message from this post, I hope it will be that for the gaming addict “It is NOT just a game.”  Here are 6 reasons why:

1)     MMORPGs do NOT end EVER:  These games are designed to prevent individuals who play upwards of 8 hours per day from completing the game’s content, becoming bored, and eventually quitting.  When a person beats the last level of Mario and saves the princess, the game ends.  In MMORPGs there is always a new princess and always another foe to defeat.  This is achieved by a never-ending and expanding creation of game content by the game developer.  Players are given new content to conquer every year.  World of Warcraft for example was released 10 years ago and has 10 million loyal subscribers many of whom have played for years.  Individuals pay a monthly subscription for the right to continue playing and have access to new game content.

2)     MMORPs are a social experience and involves teamwork:  MMORPGs may not be social in the traditional or even reasonable sense (i.e. actually being in a room with someone or going outdoors).  However, gameplay is not a solo venture.  Indeed, users will often pair up on difficult missions and some missions involve 5-20 users to be completed successfully.  These missions vary in difficulty and often take gamers months to complete successfully.  It is quite common for gamers to converse over headsets to ensure that gaming strategy is carried out correctly.  Players will fail a mission several hours a day for several weeks before eventually defeating an enemy.  It is frustrating and players subject themselves to that frustration with their teammates with for whom they grow to respect and enjoy spending time.  Gamers relish experiences like this one

3)     MMORPGs are a community: Gamers have a saying that you join for the game and stay for the people.  Gamers will be loyal to the people they play with by refusing to join other Guilds who are better at the game than those with whom they play.  Players may also become well-known within their community on their gaming server for their achievements.  Think of a gaming server like living in Cuba.  You cannot live in Cuba and the U.S. at the same time and you have to pay someone if you want to leave and move somewhere else.  MMORPGs have many servers where guilds (groups of players) and players can gain status and recognition in this small niche.  Never was the sense of community more evident than in this short clip.

4)     MMORPs reward dedication and offer users status in their community: The competition between players and guilds to complete game content faster than their rivals is fierce.  There are entire websites dedicated to tracking game progress of guilds and bragging rights are on the line to be the first to get to the finish line or just beat your rivals.  Gamers take this very seriously.  Beating the content in of itself also offers rewards.  Players receive new items when they slay new dragons that the player can then use to defeat foes and wear as a badge of honor for all in the game to see.  Obtaining these items involves dozens of conquests over the same content and having these items is a symbol of the talent and dedication of your teammates.  Within the guilds themselves, members can become part of the guild leadership.  They are responsible for scheduling times for the guild to play certain content and creating strategy to win.  This also gives players a sense of responsibility and pride in their position with their guild.

5)     It is NOT just about beating the game, which of course cannot be beaten.  Slaying a dragon with 20 of your guild teammates while the ultimate accomplishment is neither necessary nor sufficient to sustain the gaming experience of any gamer.  Players can battle each other individually or in teams (known as Player versus Player or PVP).  These encounters are like pickup basketball.  They are competitive, fun, and can take place so long as there are people who want to team up and fight against you.  There are also numerous professions that allow players to craft rare items and gather rare resources.  Honing these professions takes months and they expand as the game is updated.

6)     MMORP characters represent an investment that instills pride in the user: Players invest a tremendous amount of time in their characters.  It is not unheard of or even surprising to for a player to have spent over a year (cumulatively) of his/her time playing an MMORPG.  Moreover, they have triumphed over truly difficult game content and have been venerated for their accomplishments by their peers.  They have grown from novice and average players to players with skill.  The character itself goes through numerous transformations in terms of its armor and weapons to abilities and special skills.  None of these accomplishments is earned easily.  They also take time, strategy, teamwork, and perseverance.

If it sounds like I am ascribing real world experiences to a virtual world; I am.  The game is designed to be sustained by those experiences.  And those experiences in part sustain the addiction to MMORPGs.

If you feel your teen is struggling with addiction, counseling can help identify the problem and help your teen with healthy coping skills.