March 31, 2010

Not Just Fun and Games

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World of Warcraft boasted more than 11.5 million subscriptions by the end of 2008; HALO smashed all industry sales records in 2007 when it topped $300 million in sales in the first day; the Grand Theft Auto Double Pack for Xbox has sold more than 1.59 million copies in the U.S. alone. If the statistics alone don’t make it clear, the nature of the nicknames attributed to games such as Warcraft (WarCrack) and EverQuest  (NeverRest) allude to their addictive potential.According to one of Cornell’s many gamers, Andrew Radvedicius ’13, “The reason why games like World of Warcraft are so addicting is because of the community aspect to the games; you don’t really find people addicted to a one-player game, but with multi-player games you do.” Adding an afterthought that appears to venture into the realm of gaming community urban legend, he added, “There was at least one guy in Asia who have died because they didn’t eat because they were playing that game.” He isn’t wrong, though; in 2005 a South Korean man, Lee Seung Seop, made international headlines when he died of exhaustion and dehydration after a 50-hour World of Warcraft session.  Svete Rao ’12, another World of Warcraft  player, said, “You don’t realize how much time passes when you’re playing. … There’s times when I’ve not done homework because I was playing World of Warcraft [and] times when I haven’t studied [because of gaming].” She added, “There’s a lot to do and it’s so much fun … I think that’s why people get addicted to [games like] World of Warcraft — because there’s so much to do.”Gamers seem to understand the addictive potential of their virtual worlds; there is a WoWaholics Anonymous group and (ironically) a WoWaholics website, In some areas gaming and internet addiction recovery centers have begun to spring up — like the one in Utah that was featured in a 2009 Time article.According to Gannett’s Director of Counseling and Pscyhological Services Dr. Greg Eels, the American Psychiatry Association does not recognize gaming or internet addiction in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.“This is obviously an area of contention,” Eels explained. “On the one hand if you take addiction as a physiological addiction to a substance [it’s not] an addiction, but it does reinforce the pleasure centers of the brain.”“It really all depends on the definition of addiction,” he added, noting that often in counseling addiction is determined based on the level of impact a behavior has on a patient’s life. “I would say if you’re playing a game so much that it’s inferring with other areas of your life … then it’s a problem.”  Martin Requena ’12, who has been playing online role-playing games — RPG’s — since high school, explained the addictive pull of gaming: “It makes you feel like you’re doing something and getting rewards [and] it’s really just virtual stuff but it makes you powerful in the game world. I think that’s what makes it so addictive.”The realistic relationships formed in virtual worlds can be another form of reinforcement for gamers as well, Eels explained. He said, “It’s curious working with gamers [as patients] because to them [the relationships formed] feel real because they spent a lot of time with these anonymous people in [their] hunting party in World of Warcraft.” Gamers may come to feel close to “people who they couldn’t even pick out on the street.”Rao explained the ease with which gamers can find themselves sucked in to the game for long periods of time: “If you’re in a group and you’re playing with a bunch of different people that can take hours.”  She explained that the reward-structure in many role-playing games is based on the completion of tasks or achievements in exchange for power.Just as students are driven towards games by the inducement of virtual rewards, many are eventually driven away when the real-world costs become too great. “It’s only once it’s conflicting with schoolwork, relationships, academic endeavors that people generally come to me.”Although Eels said he only sees about two students per semester for gaming addictions, he added, “I’m sure there are people out there who are spending hundreds of hours a month gaming and aren’t coming to counseling and I think [because] Cornell attracts bright students they’re able to keep from flunking out.”  RLD

Original Author: Keri Blakinger