New addiction strikes students: video games

Dan Hollander The Daily Illini

Dan Hollander The Daily Illini

By Julian Scharman

Scott Czarnik’s friend spent his days at the University fighting battles. And like anyone who fights, he had to make sacrifices.

But Czarnik’s friend was not battling real people, or in a real conflict, he was playing Everquest online, and his ultimate sacrifice was his grades.

“(He) became addicted to the PC game Everquest . leading him to drop out of college his junior year,” said Czarnik, junior in LAS. “I personally was shocked by this because he was on the track for success, at one point excelling in all his classes.”

Massive multiplayer online role playing games, or MMORPGs, have set the electronic gaming community on fire, with their elaborate game play and ability to transport its users into a domain of fantasy. The most celebrated of these games include World of Warcraft, recruiting over 2 million players in North America, and Everquest with 400,000-500,000 gamers, according to most estimates.

The Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery, located within Proctor Hospital in Peoria, has been admitting patients claiming an addiction to video games.

Amidst its relatively newfound place within the science and psychology community, there is little known of video game addiction. It does not even appear in the Psychology DSM-IV, a comprehensive manual of psychological disorders.

Despite the unavailability of specific research about video game addiction, its addictive elements cannot go unsung.

“The same chemical reaction takes place in the brain for a gamer addict as it does for a cocaine addict,” said Libby Zivalich, corporate clinician at the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery. “When a cocaine addict ingests cocaine, endorphins and dopamine is released so they get a very pleasurable feeling.”

According to Zivalich, of all the institute’s process addiction cases, 28 percent were from online games.

The institute offers a comprehensive plan to address, diagnose and treat those who come forth admitting habits of an addiction, particularly to online gaming. The treatment initiates with a professional assessment where clinicians attempt to get information from the patient, friends and family members on any occupational, social, financial or emotional impacts of their gaming.

“A lot of times patients are unable or unwilling to recognize the impact of the process on their own life, and it takes an outside individual to say ‘No, this is really going on,'” Zivalich said, who has seen a 25 percent increase in process addictions admitted to the Institute this year.

After the assessment, there is a determination of whether or not the patient is likely to suffer a form of withdrawal once they stop gaming. From this point, clinicians are able to determine whether treatment will include inpatient or outpatient services or early intervention. The closing stages of the procedure are geared toward helping the individual re-establish a more productive relationship with gaming, Zivalich said.

Studies conducted by Dmitri Williams, an assistant professor in Speech Communications specializing in the social impact of new technology and online gaming, said the average age of a gamer is 27, but the age bracket includes players 14-65. These online games even break boundaries of race, income levels and geography.

However, men are not the majority of online gamers. Most online gaming activity comes from middle-aged women. The number of people playing games such as Jewel Quest and solitaire, primarily women, far exceed those of the most popular MMORPGs, played primarily by men, Willams said.

“People don’t study these areas because it doesn’t seem as glamorous or as exciting, because it doesn’t conform to stereotypes,” he said, “But those are the facts.”

Williams added that the biggest difference between online games such as poker or World of Warcraft is that games like poker involve short, repeated plays. The MMORPGs are the ones that a player is locked in for hours, days, weeks, months or even years.

Some users who frequent games such as World of Warcraft said that their habits are manageable, even though sometimes can appear to be in excess. Steve Lynch, junior in LAS, said his cousin was forced to drop out of college due to his 5-hour-a-day playing habits of World of Warcraft for an entire semester. But, Lynch said that his own habits vary.

“If I have plenty of free time, I might play about 15 hours a week,” Lynch said. “But sometimes I won’t play more than 1 or 2 hours a week.”

Lynch said that people need to discern between being temporarily addicted to a certain online game and an addiction to video games in general.

However, Zivalich said the most important distinction gamers and individuals need to understand is the line between “passion and compulsion.”

“There’s a difference between passion and compulsion,” said Zivalich, “Passion is something that enhances your life and uplifts you . compulsion is something that drains you and takes away from you.”