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Gaming addiction poses 'pandemic' threat: expert

David Landes · 16 Sep 2009, 10:35

Published: 16 Sep 2009 10:35 GMT+02:00

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“This is a huge hidden problem in a lot of countries and it doesn’t get the same kind of attention because it takes place largely behind closed doors rather than out in public,” Sven Rollenhagen of the Youth Care Foundation (Stiftelsen Ungdomsvård) told The Local.

For nearly two decades, the organization has been helping young people in Sweden recognize and manage computer gaming addiction.

But following a February report in which the organization dubbed World of Warcraft “the cocaine of the computer games world”, the foundation has been flooded with inquiries from across the globe looking for more information about how to address the problem.

“We were bombarded with calls and emails from around the world from people who thought they or someone they knew might be addicted,” said Rollenhagen.

Soon thereafter, the Youth Care Foundation set about translating their materials into English. In addition, Rollenhagen has since been working to create a Centre of Computer Game Addiction, an international network of professionals and organizations devoted to bringing attention to what he believes is a major public health issue.

“I’m worried we’re going to end up with a lost generation,” said Rollenhagen.

“Generally we’re talking about boys and young men who end up playing games so much that other aspects of their lives like family, work, school, relationships all fall by the wayside.”

Without doing a shred of marketing, the organization has already received “a huge number” of inquiries from schools, social service agencies, addicts, and their families located all over the world, a phenomenon which has Rollenhagen convinced he and his colleagues are just at the tip of the iceberg.

“If you extrapolate from the number of calls we received or simply from the millions of games that are sold around the world each year, you start to see how big the pool of potential addicts is,” he said.

“I believe we’re dealing with a problem of pandemic proportions.”

Already ahead of the curve by “daring” to view gaming addiction as something distinct from other common problems facing young people, Sweden’s Youth Care Foundation has put the country on the map as a leader in developing strategies for coping with the issue.

“Sweden has long been at the forefront of efforts to battle addiction,” he said, adding that there are very few, if any, experts elsewhere in the world who have dedicated their work completely to the study and management of gaming addiction.

The Youth Care Foundation now has versions of their website, Game Over Stockholm (www.spelfritt.se), in English, German, and French, and Rollenhagen hopes to arrange a gathering of experts on the issue in Stockholm later this autumn.

Story continues below…

“We want to bring people together who are dealing with or have dealt with this so they can share our experiences, exchange ideas, and learn from one another,” he said.

He hopes that his efforts, and those of others in his growing network, can help curb the spread of gaming addiction and avoid what he sees as the “incredible waste of resources” that comes with it.

“These are smart guys, highly intelligent, capable of being anything – doctors, engineers, whatever. But they find themselves tempted by computer games and end up just wasting time in front of a screen,” said Rollenhagen.

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David Landes (david.landes@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

11:39 September 16, 2009 by hpunlimited
Stupid!! People are afraid of everything new! Lets not talk about the pandemic of GOLF playing, or the pandemic of the TV!! Or these "drug dealers" called movie rentals.

Remember when they said that if you drove your car faster than 60km/t you would pass out?
12:54 September 16, 2009 by Tennin
They're talking more about the people who play games for hours and hours at a time. Who put their family and life on hold for a game, i.e. people who call in sick to game. Where they come home from school or work and game the rest of the day and night away. They tend to miss out on sleep because they game late at night too.
13:12 September 16, 2009 by Random Guy
i play wow but im
13:17 September 16, 2009 by magic1964
Video games become a problem when it become an addiction.....when all the rest become secondary: familly, school, work.
13:18 September 16, 2009 by Social Hypocrisy
Ive had numerous friends who have left a string of broken relations behind them. Also a good friend of mine happens to be the md of a very popular online world. We all started as tabletop roleplayers and the majority of us became normal memebers of society.

The reason that people dissapear into alternate worlds is because they prefere that imaginary world to the stale real life presented to them. Fix this problem and you will fix the addiction problem.

I think there are a lot of people who are a lot happer staying at home with a roof over there head, and a bit of food in there mouth and engaging in their new reality, as opposed to taking it up the ass and dancing to the policy makers tune in the old world.
13:25 September 16, 2009 by karex
The key word here is addiction. That's a disease. You can become addicted to many things, including TV and golf as well as alcohol and internet poker. But engaging in any of these activities reasonably is not a problem. I don't think that anyone is out to get the gaming industry, or any of the other industries. The essence of the message from the Youth Care Foundation is to point out that gaming can and is becoming addicitive.
13:54 September 16, 2009 by CarlBlack
Social Hypocrisy: How would you like to fix that somebody prefers an imaginary world to real life? Some people find real world too boring, without the challenges like the chance to fight a dragon, oppositely for other people the real world is too insecure and unpredictable. And generally virtual life is easier to live: It is of course easier to level up in WoW than to "level up" your real muscles by training or your knowledge by learning. The problem is mainly psychological and lies in each one's ability to deal with real world challenges.

As for the addiction: as long as it is not physiologically based (like with strong drugs), it is only a matter of being able to realize that there are also some duties in the real world, and everyone will be able to establish a reasonable balance between what time he spends in real or virtual life. For example if a child has excessive amount of free time, almost no duties to do at home, no push to some other interest, it is quite probable that it will end up spending a lot time playing. The problem is solved if it is raised to be involved in something from the very beginning.
14:02 September 16, 2009 by Social Hypocrisy
Hi Carl, Im not quiet sure what your saying, can you clarify.

If you are asking me how I would fix those people with an addiction. My answer would be if its not causing a problem to society, that they should be left alone.
16:02 September 16, 2009 by hpunlimited
I totally disagree with most of you guys here. Gaming gives you challenges. Challenges that we humans need, there is still a "cave man" in us, we have a need for action, suspense and more. We were not created to just sit around and do nothing. Thousands of years ago we did have these challenges every day, men went out and killed animals for food, we banded together and bonded in dire needs. Now a days we sit at an office desk all day, sit on the subway, sit and change diapers and drink latte's. THAT is not how we were created! We still have that inherited need for challenges. And yes, most online gamers are very social. Something alot more dangerous is TV, you just sit and look, you never interact. You are not mentally challenged like you are in a game.
19:44 September 16, 2009 by Nemesis
Thank you all for helping me make up my mind, wether I should purchase a playstaion 3 or not. www.komplett.se has a special offer on at present. I just picked a playstation3 up and expect it to be delivered this week.

I have seen this imbecilic nonsense before. As a teenager I grew up on heavy metal. I remember seeing the pscyhiatrists, psychologists, social workers and politicans on TV stating that all kids who like heavy metal, will grow up to be murderers, rapists, perverts, anti social etc.

The rocker kids I grew up with are all still married, with kids, jobs and seem to be quite well balanced.

Since then, there has been a list of politicians having weird sex and starting wars. A lot of Psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers have ended up in jail for various things, mostly strange things.

Strangely when Tipper Gore, Al Gore's wife complained about Twisted Sister songs being about BDSM, I was part of a group of teenage rockers in the library trying to find out what BDSM mean't, which really annoyed the librarian.

Anyone want to bet which person involved in this attempt to demonise gaming, will end up in a tabloid for having sex with children, raping someone or starting a war?

As I typed this, I listened to some relaxing music by Moterhead and judas Priest:)
20:56 September 16, 2009 by CarlBlack
Social Hypocrisy: With that I agree.

If my answer is not clear, then it's maybe because the article is also not clear: they don't give any real numbers, don't say how they define being addict to computer games... Just say some alarming sentences, used basically by anybody who wants to get to media at any cost.
22:41 September 16, 2009 by maijavilkina
Sorry guys, gaming addiction, and addiction in WoW in particular is a real problem. Most of you probably have not met the most intense players in the game, since it is so huge. Well, I have, and I have also been playing WoW for many years myself, and there are elements of or a full blown addiction in many top players. It's not really about demonising games per se, just like alcoholism is not about demonising, say, wine culture. But these things happen, and the border where casual gaming turns into addiction is very thin. And then people throw their lives away, because somehow A GAME becomes much more important than any real person or real element of life - much like drugs or alcohol addiction, where people will do and justify everything just to get the next dose. Granted, there are no truly physical aspects of WoW addiction - at least not in any except the most severe cases, but the social and psychological challenge to actually really quit playing is enormous.

In short, gaming addiction IS REAL. Get on with it.
00:05 September 17, 2009 by sweetpea80
with so many other addictions out there this is the one "we" are concentrating on, great! perfect! makes sense. =P
13:45 September 17, 2009 by ooh456
so people are playing WOW and not having babies, going to work every day, and paying taxes like the government wants. And the problem is... people are having fun?
04:47 September 19, 2009 by soultraveler3
I've played different online games for almost 10 years now. This article is about WoW which I only played for about 2 months because the level of quality conversation is much lower compared to other video games. The main reason for that is simply because the average of players there is more in the 12-15 year range vs. other mmorpgs where the average age is 30ish.

Like anything in life it can be a good or bad experience.

The social aspect is great and I've met alot of my best friends online. I don't have children but if I did I'd much rather them be at home playing online than running out in the streets drinking and spray painting. It's also can be a fun hobby and a way for some people to relax and escape the stresses of everyday.

On the other hand, I've seen some really negative aspects of gaming too. People can become addicted to gaming. I know couples that have gotten divorced, people that have lost jobs and friendships that have fallen apart due to gaming.

The problem comes when people lose themselves to the fantasy. People need to take responsibilty for themselves and for their families.

Like I said above, there's alot of the time that I'd rather have my child (if I had one) at home where I know they're safe. At the same time I believe parents need to make sure their children are happy and have a social circle irl (in real life.) Don't let the computer or tv replace quality family time. Make the kid go outside and get some fresh air every now and then. :)

When gaming or drinking or whatever starts to take over to the point where it's negativly affecting you work and home life, it's time to pull back. Do a reality check, fix the problems that are influencing your addiction and get help if you need to.

Having said that though, I feel the need to point out that most gamers, especially the adult ones only use it as a hobby.

Like Ooh456 says

"so people are playing WOW and not having babies, going to work every day, and paying taxes like the government wants. And the problem is... people are having fun?"

Most of us have jobs, pay taxes and are responsible in life.

I just don't want this study to turn online fantasy games into yet another thing society blames it's problems on.

Children don't become "bad" adults because of the music they listen to, the games they play, the books they read or the stuff they see on tv.

They become screwed up when the parents aren't around, don't take the time to explain what's important in life, don't teach them the difference between reality and fiction and don't teach them to take responsibilty for their own life and actions.
23:06 September 25, 2009 by Canada_Girl
Ironically, one of the biggest video game design firms is housed in Sweden. :)
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