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A love-hate relationship: When video games become self-destructive
[May 18, 2011]

A love-hate relationship: When video games become self-destructive

LAS CRUCES, May 18, 2011 (Las Cruces Sun-News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- We've all heard the rumors: Another game fanatic died in his swivel chair playing "World of Warcraft," the massively multiplayer online role-playing game, on his computer, because he was too mentally engaged in the game to stop and order a pizza or get a glass of water.

This, of course, would be an extreme case (in February, the BBC reported a Chinese man did die after a three-day online gaming session). But for many hardcore gamers who live life through an avatar or combat aliens in a first-person shooter, their behavior -- although rarely deadly -- is certainly not healthy. Not only are gamers not moving or engaging in any type of physical activity for a prolonged period of time, but according to licensed Mental Health Councilor Andrea Dresser, M.S., who works with couples, familes and children, this type of behavior can be socially self-destructive.

"It affects relationships, because people tend to isolate themselves (when they are playing video games)," Dresser said. Dresser said she has dealt with patients in the past who showed signs of addiction to playing video games, and that it is not just kids who can become overly absorbed in a fantasy world.

"(One patient) would spend his off-time held up in his home office with the door closed," she said. "He was not communicating with his wife or his kids." Dresser said when it gets to this point, the game is no longer in a relationship with their spouse or kids, but instiead in a relationship with the game.

According to video game addiction statistics, 72 percent of United States citizens, ages 6 to 44, play video games for an estimated 18 hours a week, and 4 percent of U.S. gamers are "extreme gamers," who play an estimated 50 hours per week. 8.5 percent of American gamers, ages 8 to 18, are considered to be clinically addicted.

Dresser said one sign that indicates someone may be addicted to playing video games is if they lie about the amount of time spent playing video games or try to conceal the extent of their problem.

When someone is addicted to something, Dresser said there is a chemical reaction that occurrs in the brain.

"It activates your dopamine levels," she said. "The excitemnt changes something in the brain. When you have a change of brain chemistry, it can turn into a pleasure zone." In some cases, Dresser said games can provide a form of instant gratification, which may lead to addictive behavior. Playing video games can also be used as an escape from reality or other mental illnesses, such as anxiety or depression. "Somebody who is depressed and who is not dealing with their depression or anxiety, but is playing video games all day, is losing the opportunity of relating to live people," she said. "You're in a false world and a false reality. It's fantasy." Ray Costales, 18, who said he plays video games for five or more hours a day, said he primarily plays first-person shooter games, such as the most recent versions of "Call of Duty" and "Halo" on his Xbox 360.

Even though Costales said he knows playing video games for long periods of time is not necessarily productive, he continues to play because it is a form of entertainment.

"I don't really feel like it's helping me go forward, but it is something to do in meantime," Costales said.

Unfortunately, many parents often do not pay attention to how much time their kids spend playing video games, or realize when it is a problem.

"It's like watching TV all day," Dresser said. "It's sedentary." Brian Falcone, 26, said when he was younger, although he did not think he was ever addicted to video games, he definitely set aside a large amount of time to play them.

"It started out with this game called 'EverQuest' when I was 14," he said. "I still think about playing that game sometimes even though no one plays it anymore." Falcone said "EverQuest" led into "World of Warcraft," which he would play for about four hours a day.

"There's no point in playing that game unless you have hours of your life to sacrifice," he said. "The game is really large and you can actually interact with other people so that makes it more entertaining. It's just the progress -- getting to the next level -- that's what makes it addictive." Falcone said he broke his habits of intense gaming sessions as he got older and accumulated more responsibilities, but that he still makes room for playing first-person shooter games when his schedule allows it.

"I have definitely played (video games) at times when I should have been doing something else," he said. "I don't see anything wrong with just playing on the weekend, but if you don't have the ability to manage your time because you have to play the game, then maybe you shouldn't play it." Of course, not all video games are bad, but the games we choose to play and the amount of time we play them is what can end up being detrimental to our health and social interaction with others.

"Since I got my Xbox 360, I have not played the Wii, it's just been sitting there for about six months," Falcone said. "I like fist-person shooters, the Wii doesn't really have great games like that." Alexia Severson can be reached at (575) 541-5453.

ADDICTED TO VIDEO GAMES? 8.5 percent of American youth gamers, ages 8 to 18, is "clinically addicted" to playing video games.

Most video game addicts are boys.

On average, girls, ages 8 to 12, play video games 10 hours a week; boys, 8 to 12 , play 16 hours a week; girls, ages 13 to 18, play 8 hours a week; boys, ages 13 to 18, play 18 hours a week.

40 percent of "World of Warcraft" players are considered "addicted." If the 4 percent of extreme gamers in the United States, who play video games 50 hours a week, chose to dedicate their time to building scyscrapers instead of playing games, they could build 48 towers every week. -- FIVE SIGNS YOU MAY BE ADDICTED 1. You feel really happy when you're online or when you're playing games, but as soon as you have to stop, you get angry or upset.

2. You think about going online or playing when you are supposed to be focusing on other things, like doing school work or having dinner with your family.

3. You spend more time with your keyboard or controller than physically hanging out with your friends.

4. Your friends or parents ask what you spend all your time doing, and you lie about it or laugh it off, but inside you know they may have a point.

5. You get up in the middle of the night to check your email or comments from fellow gamers because you're having a hard time sleeping.

-- Private Practice Office, 1395 Missouri Ave.

(575) 448-1350, To see more of the Las Cruces Sun-News, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2011, Las Cruces Sun-News, N.M.

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