A fortnight ago, a 32-year-old Taiwanese man died of exhaustion after a 3-day game marathon at a cybercafé! While not everyone would end up dead playing internet games, many young people today spend hours on end “binge gaming”. What makes these games so addictive?
Computer games have evolved greatly from Disc Operating System (DOS) based games to animated games to what is now known as Role Playing Games. Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG) is the “in thing”.
Firstly, they are massive – large and enormous in terms of the number of players who are involved during the games. With the availability of broadband over the last two decades in our country, young people can play with all kinds of people, all over the world, irrespective of national or geographical boundaries and time-zones.
Secondly, they are multiplayer. Unlike solitaire games, these games require and facilitate many players to think and strategise with each other, inevitably facilitating social connections which feed a deep need of the human heart. This quest for relationships is further fuelled by the fact that these players, often strangers to each other are experiencing mutual support in their common goal. As advancement in the game also requires team effort, indirect peer pressure is a closely-related reason why players have to spend many hours in the game. Each player has to be responsible in advancing his character’s potency so as to make the team stronger. Those who cannot keep up with the pace are barred from participating in certain quests which requires more advanced characters.
Thirdly, as these games require each individual to take on specific roles (such as damagers or healers), it gives the players a purpose. For adolescents, these roles fulfil what Erikson (a famous developmental psychologist) identified as an important need in this phase of life i.e. formation of their identity. For older adults who have not been particularly successful in real life, (lacking job security or relationship intimacy) these games provide a much-needed meaningful purpose and are refreshing as they go on their missions to kill monsters, destroy strongholds and free hostages. Best of all, the players feel invincible and indestructible since they can be restored back to life even when they are mortally wounded.
What then can be done to help these addicted gamers? As in other addictions, the first step is to help the person recognise that he (most of the gamers are males) has a problem. One way is to discuss objectively with him the symptoms that are associated with gaming addiction i.e. preoccupation, tolerance, escapism, moodiness, and loss of jobs or career opportunity.
Secondly, strict measures have to be adopted to tackle the addiction. Depending on the severity, it may mean either decrease of playtime or stopping altogether. Parents also have to take into the consideration the age and personality of the child in meting out the appropriate approach. It may not be effective for parents of older and strong-willed adolescents to uninstall the gaming software against their will.
While enforcement of discipline is needed, there is also the need for understanding and support on the part of parents. When their children stop playing the games, it also means that they have to cut themselves from a major social support system – fellow gamers that they have been collaborating in the virtual world. This then lead us to another important step in extinguishing the addictive behaviour i.e. find a suitable replacement to counteract their loss e.g. new hobbies, sports or other social activities. Sending him for extra tuition cannot be included in this list as it does not give them the zest and oomph to keep their minds off the MMORPGs.
If the above remedies prove difficult to implement, consider seeking professional help.
About the Author
Patrick Cheng is a licensed counsellor and father of two grown-up sons. For more details about the writer, click here.