The recently slashdotted 2006 Mediawise Report Card noted that, “the solutions to the problems presented by video games lie in eradicating ignorance on both the scientific-technical and the parental knowledge levels. Simply put, parents need to step up to the plate and the experts need to conduct more and better research.”
The National Institute on Media and the Family, a watchdog organization which releases these annual report cards, is most usually concerned with games and children. The lack of knowledge surrounding game “addiction” isn’t just about children. It impacts everyone involved: parents, game players, game developers, policy makers - everyone.
Some people do have problems playing too much. Whether or not a new kind of “game addiction” is behind excessive play, its portrayal is creating a great deal of social apprehension. Bill O’Reilly, always an interesting factor when it comes to bringing thoughtfulness and sophistication to a discussion, recently said of people interacting inside of game worlds, “I know there are people who are absolutely addicted to this like drugs and alcohol.” He also likened gamers, and to a lesser extent people who use technology, to zombies.
The best way to address the misrepresentations surrounding game “addiction” is through understanding. Not a 30-second soundbyte understanding, but rather information, preferably research information, that is contextualized for real people so that they can get a real use out of it. When clear research work becomes readily available, it then filters to the media, informative resources, and the people providing treatment. Right now, in the absence of good research, it really isn’t too hard to see why a little bit of information would be a very good thing.
The current state of the media coverage for excessive gaming sucks, and very few people are pulling their punches when it comes to blaming games. While you don’t have to look far for anti-game coverage in the media, the naming conventions for titles of ‘game addiction’ articles mercifully refuse to jump to any conclusions. Oh, wait, what about, “Playing with death,” (24 hours, Toronto ) “A Dangerous Diversion,” (The Washington Post) or “Video gaming is like crack for some kids” (The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio)? Wow, well at least the coverage is balanced, right?
Not usually. Some journalists really and truly want to present a balanced take on problem gaming, but there just isn’t great material for them. Many articles are simply a quick list of anecdotal game-related deaths. News based purely off anecdotes is still a big problem here, since many of these anecdotes are often shocking, sensationalist and sad. While many of these anecdotes are likely isolated cases, we still have to take them seriously. On the one hand, a single case may not represent the millions of people playing the myriad types of games. On the other, it’s never a good idea to make light of people who have gone through extreme loss. Many anecdotes reference online or massively multiplayer online games, but the bulk of the people out there probably don’t have enough knowledge to sort out anecdotes from single player, multiplayer, or massively multiplayer online games.
Aaron Ruby, writing for BusinessWeek in September 2006, confronted the blatantly anti-game legislation, media coverage and research surrounding game violence and ‘addiction.’ He noted that, “fear of new technology, anxiety about cultural change, and the desire to confirm our own prejudices can cause even the most dogmatically anti-scientific among us to turn hungrily to natural philosophy for ‘evidence.’”
Ruby lambasted the one-sided ‘addiction’ coverage given by the August NewScientist cover story ‘Hooked: Why your brain is primed for addiction.’ He additionally addressed areas of the NewScientist article which he saw as intentionally misleading, particularly where an ominous pictures of gamers playing violent games was transposed next to the story of an alleged computer addict who “might not have been an addict at all.”
Wikipedia, normally a cornerstone of knowledge for both the general populace and superheroes alike, hasn’t had much to offer lately in the way of information on “game addiction.” The neutrality and factual accuracy of this article have been called into question, as off and on it portrays hotly debated speculations and blatant opinions as fact. The medical information site WebMD offers an article which takes a cogent look at a few major information sources, making some valuable points. Unfourtunately, WebMD still pulls from some of the more heavily disputed sources on the topic.
One of the most disputed of these sources has been Kimberly Young. While to her credit she has raised awareness for the idea that the Internet and online games may be problematic in unique ways, her criteria for identifying these problems is not actually unique. John Grohol, the founder of the mental health site PsychCentral, critiqued Kimberly Young’s criteria for Internet Addiction Disorder, which imported criteria from almost exclusively from gambling addiction, "I don't know of any other disorder currently being researched where the researchers, showing all the originality of a trash romance novel writer, simply 'borrowed' the diagnostic symptom criteria for an unrelated disorder, made a few changes, and declared the existence of a new disorder. If this sounds absurd, it's because it is."