Television, video games, computers and the internet have all
received their share of criticism from those worried about
the various effects of too much screen time on users, but
recent deaths and new research findings on addiction are
taking concerns about excessive gaming in particular to a new
Canberra psychology researcher Olivia Metcalf recently
revealed scientific findings that showed some excessive
gamers could not stop thinking about gaming when they tried
to focus on other tasks - an "attentional bias" also found in
heroin, alcohol and gambling addictions.
The problem was only found in a minority of gamers who could
not stop playing: "It's not something that occurs because you
do a behaviour a lot. It's some sort of change that occurs in
your attention system, in your brain, when an addiction is
developing," Ms Metcalf said. Negative consequences for
affected gamers included problems with sleep, diet, relation
ships, work and school commitments. Ms Metcalf said the
research provided some of the first scientific evidence that
video gaming could be addictive and "that's the first step to
lead us to developing treatment and therapies to help those
Whether or not Ms Metcalf's findings are in fact the first
proof of the addictive nature of gaming, it is certainly
clear that debate and fears over the issue have existed for
many years. Some Asian countries have implemented online
gaming restrictions - including around age, length of
sessions and spending - and some have also set up dedicated
internet or gaming addiction treatment facilities,
predominantly for teenaged boys and young men. One in China
was reportedly set up back in 2004.
In Taiwan in February, a 23-year-old gamer reportedly lay
dead in an internet cafe for nine hours before being noticed.
He had apparently had a heart attack after playing games
solidly for 23 hours.
In July, it was reported an 18-year-old collapsed at a
Taiwanese internet cafe after playing non-stop for 40 hours.
In February last year, a 30-year-old Chinese gamer reportedly
died after playing for three days with little food or sleep.
Similar deaths were reported last year in China and Britain.
In August this year, a 15-year-old US boy reportedly
collapsed several times after playing one game almost
continuously for four or five days in his room at his home
and was treated in hospital for severe dehydration and
And there have been appalling cases of neglect. In 2009, a
South Korean couple hit the headlines when their
three-month-old daughter died from malnutrition, having being
left unattended while they went to internet cafes and spent
hours playing a computer game that - incredulously - involved
raising a virtual character of a young girl.
In January 2011, US researchers found video game addiction
could lead to depression and anxiety in children, whose
school performance suffered. It found gaming provided an
outlet for children who were socially awkward to lose
themselves, but then contributed to their depression.
And therein lies part of the problem. The attraction with
gaming and online gaming is it allows users - of all ages -
to escape from reality and create a world in which they can
be someone, or something, else through adopting game
personas. Online games can involve multiple users and the
challenge of trying to reach higher levels - often with
rewards up for grabs - contributes to their addictive nature.
And the increasing prevalence of internet cafes, personal
computers and smartphones allows users to be online all the
As we move ever faster into the digital age, it is inevitable
our youth will do a vast amount of their learning and playing
onscreen and online. But it would seem, if we want to avoid
turning them all into online junkies from an early age,
exercising an "all things in moderation" approach is the
wisest course. A mix of more "traditional" forms of
socialising and entertainment, along with sport and exercise,
and of course a healthy dose of parental responsibility, will
enable children to grow social skills and lead balanced lives
away from the box. For entertainment is supposed to be just
that - not a lifetime addiction that destroys one's ability
to function in the real world.