In a world where the Entertainment Software Association reports that 75 percent of “heads of households play computer or video games,” most gamers say they find that the fantastical worlds and virtual characters in computers games are a way to relax and socialize with other players. However, for some Boston University students, video games have become more than just a game.
McLean Hospital Computer Addiction Study Center Director Maressa Orzack, an assistant clinical psychology professor at Harvard University, treats patients who have become addicted to computer games.
“Computer addiction is an activity in which the person spends too much time, risking everything from relationships to finances,” Orzack said. “The consequences cover a broad range. It is an out-of-control, risky behavior.”
According to the CASC website, computer game addicts can suffer from physical symptoms, including Carpal Tunnel syndrome and migraine headaches. Addicts’ obsession with video games can lead to irregularities in eating or sleeping patterns and a sense of depression or irritability when a user is away from the game. Computer addiction can also cause problems with school or work and affect addicts’ social lives.
College of Arts and Sciences junior Sam Edwards said his freshman-year roommate was a video game addict who exhibited many of these signs.
“He hardly ever went to class and never did any work,” Edwards said. “He was constantly on the computer playing games. He had papers and assignments due during the time he was playing.”
Orzack said the causes of addiction vary, but usually begin with mood or anxiety disorders. Some players are looking for a new identity or a sense of belonging. She added that computer games are constructed in a way to keep the user engrossed in the virtual world.
“Video games really allow me to go to a different world and take part in the action there,” CAS freshman Hakim Walker said. “It’s like a temporary escape from the boredom of everyday life.”
Orzack said multiplayer online role-playing games, including World of Warcraft, have the highest level of addictive behavior. In these type of games, players can confuse the real world with a virtual environment, spending excessive amounts of time and money. Once students become addicted to the games, they are able to block out the world around them with a virtual reality.
“Something is driving them to escape reality,” Orzack said. “They suspend their disbelief and accept the virtual world as their reality.”
Orzack said students who become addicted to video games lose their focus and risk failing out of school.
Video game and computer addiction treatment is a relatively new area of study for psychologists. Psychology professor Tibor Palfai said no one at BU does research in this area. Most patients seeking treatment at the CASC are treated with cognitive therapy.
“Addicts need to think about the consequences,” Orzack said. “Most treatment starts by asking, ‘Are you interested in changing?'”