Video games can be addictive. Very addictive. So addictive that you can spend hours playing them, without realising what’s going on in the real world. But are they as addictive as narcotic drugs?
For a long time, the medical profession hasn’t really taken video game addiction seriously. We know they give us pleasure, but we don’t know the way they affect the brain like narcotics, nicotine or alcohol do. The general public too, shares this sentiment. After all, it might be an unhealthy obsession, but we think it’s easy to de-addict. Shut the game off, drag the person into real society, and s/he might be okay. Perhaps not.
Now I must admit I like these games myself. They are a good relaxation agent after the day’s work. But I’m not yet in the addiction stage (though my family thinks so). If presented with a good book, a good conversation or even a good TV show, I’m happy to let my virtual crops rot. But other people seem to think differently.
A series of murders around the world this year have drawn attention to game addiction. A 41-year-old taxi driver, and his 25-year-old wife in Korea got quite fond of raising a virtual baby on a game called Prius. They got so fond of it, they played the game almost 10 hours a day. They reached home one morning after an all-night gaming session. Their real-life baby lay dead, severely malnourished.
The couple was sentenced to prison sentences for negligence leading to death. On October 27th, A 22-year old mother pleaded guilty to the second-degree murder of her baby son. His fault was to cry loudly while she was playing Farmville, Facebook’s hugely popular social game. By American law, she might spend the rest of her life in a jail cell (and without access to a computer). A 33-year old mother has been banned from going anywhere near a computer because she neglected her household while playing games. Her pets starved to death, her three children managed to survive by scavenging bean tins.
Games are cute. Virtual babies produce no messy diapers or ear-busting noises. There’s no potty training required for virtual pets. Virtual farms never experience drought or floods. The temptation to escapism is strong, to go into an ideal world where you are the king. Everything happens your way. You are all that you want to be. These are the feeling you get with narcotic drugs too.
The problem is becoming so widespread that detoxification and rehabilitation centres are springing up for game-addicted children and adults. Medically, addiction must meet two criteria:
1. The person needs more and more of a substance or behavior to keep him going.
2. If the person does not get more of the substance or behavior, he becomes irritable and miserable.
Game addicts meet them, and that’s already creating the kind of troubles that drug rehab centres face. Patients undergo severe withdrawal symptoms. They become violent and try to escape back to their addiction. As this case from China shows. Fourteen teenagers and young adults escaped a detox camp to go back home and start playing games again. (One had played for 28 hours non-stop before his mother packed him off to the camp.) They beat and tied up the camp supervisor, before escaping, but were caught after they couldn’t pay the taxi fare. There’s a trouble of scale – China reports 40 million youngsters who play online games.
So it might be a bit of luck that internet penetration is low in India, and broadband even lower. But as the spread of the net grows, especially as 3G mobile technology rolls out, the danger is likely to grow. And it might drive parents to ‘shock tactics’, like these parents in China are up to.
I used to think Indians were dangerously obsessed with cricket. But perhaps giving a child a bat and ball, and dreams about being the next Tendulkar are the best thing a parent may give him. At least it keeps the computer firmly switched off.