June 18, 2007

video game addiction

Posted in addiction, courage, gender differences, parenting, technology, video games at 9:55 am by weiszguy

We did the nasty.  We pulled the plug on ALL video games in our house.  We did some research and discovered that video games are addictive.  No, I’m serious.  They’re addictive in the physical sense.  Video game playing causes the same chemical reaction in the brain that amphetamines cause.  The brain likes this reaction and soon – very soon – begins craving more of it.  In no time at all the body is physically addicted, and more and more playing time is required to meet the body’s desire.

We dropped this bomb on our kids last night – probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done as a parent.  Our boys (ages 10 and 6) began crying – really crying, not just watery-eyed.  It hit them the hardest because they’re the biggest players in our house.  Our daughter (9), while not crying, got real quiet and started saying things like, “Well, I guess I could start reading more…,” as if reading more was a punishment.  Our youngest daughter (4), has only just begun to play video games and wasn’t really affected by our pronouncement, but she was crying because her brothers were crying.

My hope is to get them through the teen years without developing a physical craving for anything (video games, cigarettes, beer, etc).  Once they have adult brains this will all make sense to them, but right now it’s tough.



  1. janarius said,

    Whoa!! You can’t pull the plug so suddenly like that! I have some questions to ask you: are your kids play more hours than you believe to be harmful say two hours? What are your sources? What type of video game are you refering to?

    Unless your family has a history of addiction, I believe your actions are an overeaction. You see the American Medical Association (http://gamepolitics.com/2007/06/14/american-medical-association-takes-on-game-violence-mmo-addiction-esrb/) paper on video game, specifically targets massively multiplayer online games, i.e. games played on the internet with hundreds of other players like world of Warcraft.

    There are evidence on addiction in video game, but the epidemiological rate is very low and the research is in its infant stage, so your kids have a very low risk of addiction. However, dopamine is a common hormone and is the messenger to the brain and body of pleasurable experiences and video games provide similar stimuli and reaction to say sports or any kind of pleasurable experience. so amphetamine is a stimulant drug, but is more powerful since it can directly stimulate dopamine production. In addition, please consider the social value surrounding video games, surely your children’s classmates play video games. I’m sure it provides a good conversational topic if you were to play with your children.

    So please review your research once more and reconsider your choice.

  2. weiszguy said,

    Well, I don’t know much about brain chemistry or the effects of drugs in the brain. But if it’s true that other pleasurable activities produce dopamine in the brain, it doesn’t follow that dopamine must be safe. And regardless of dopamine’s safety, the addictive power of video games shows up in many other ways. Witness the glazed expression in the eyes; notice how often time limits are obeyed; try to make a kid get off the game (don full armor before this one). If you set a specific time everyday when games can be played, kids will start to get nervous and shaky in the time leading up to playtime. If you have an addicted kid and you make him stop cold turkey, be prepared to deal with the subsequent withdrawal symptoms, e.g., shaking, depression, unsure what to do with himself. You don’t get these kinds of responses to other pleasurable activities.

  3. janarius said,

    I see your point. Do they understand what you told them? If not, you can video tape their gaming session and show them how they look like when they play. Especially their behaviours when they’re told to do something like going to bed.

    One advice from a psychotherapist I know, Shavaun Scott, is self-monitoring. Monitor your own behaviour makes you quite self-conscious and in turn more in control of yourself.

    Your kids show some withdrawal symptoms? Well I have no clue what to do about it. Maybe you could sign them up to a sports club or something to distract them.

  4. weisgal said,

    Well, I want to chime into this conversation, since I don’t have my own blog. We have had two computer free days. I have tried to do a little research on my own on the internet – I didn’t get far- I do have 4 children to keep me busy! Here are just my observations .
    My oldest has impressed me- he took some money to a local thrift store, and bought Scrabble (which we played together and he played with his sister), then we went to a store and he bought a jig saw puzzle (which we started together)He is in a play in the local community theatre- he was verbalizing his struggle because the other kids would bring their game boys and play in the green room- we’re Christians, we believe God wants to help us, so I encouraged him to pray for God’s help- and last night , he comes home and says “Mom , you won’t believe it! The director told everyone that hand held games are not allowed to be brought to rehearsal!” When we were discussing how this whole thing was going yesterday, I told him I thought he was doing well, I was proud of him, and I mentioned that he was lucky he wasn’t having the depression or physical shakes we had read about- he said, “Mom, actually, I do feel kind of shaky- no too bad, you can’t see it, but my hands feel twitchy” Wow. My 6 year old has done well, but has said something several times that is interesting- “My brain keeps telling me to ask if I can play computer! But I keep telling it no, I can’t” Hmmmm. The girls haven’t had too much to say about it.

    So, I have been thinking a lot about this. Did we react too soon, should we have done more research? Doubting our parental decisions- which I have learned just comes with parenting-any way, I have come to the conclusion that I should continue to do research on my own, but the worst thing that could happen is that my kids are spared from a non-existent threat- the best is that we have protected them from something that has the potential to rob them of healthy relationships and a fulfilling future. Either way, right now, I am doing life with my kids- we are talking about stuff, all kinds of stuff, while we play scrabble and do puzzles, and that is healthy.

    Just a side thought to the comment about having a history of addiction from Janarius first response- are you operating from the philosophy that addictions are genetic- only ? I am operating in the philosophy that all mankind is capable of addiction, because we are all created with souls that need to have an object of affection, and comfort- a God. So, I believe that anything can take that position- food, shopping, gambling, porn, alcohol- you name it. And in that belief, any person is able to fall to addiction – it can start with anyone, in other words .

  5. janarius said,

    No, I don’t operate on solely on genetics and of course everyone is capable of being addicted it is a matter of degree. But a history of addiction can generally mean a combination of various factors, including genetics, for example a single predisposition can be a factor for many disorders like depression or generalized anxiety. It can be parenting, family or social environment, even socio-economic status that is persistent within family. But this is not the only criterion I use. Your philosophy is as valid as mine, too.

    May I ask is that perhaps we have eliminated something that is a non-existent threat, but also that could be of benefit? In psych research and in many other fields, many studies are neither black or white, but very gray. It’s like our decision, based on evidence, is weighted on a scale, never pointing to a direction with certainty, but relatively.

    In any case, I feel a bit sorry for the children, but I still believe that informed decisions should be made regardless.

  6. janarius said,

    Sorry for the double-posting, but may I direct you to Shavaun Scott, a psychotherapist who has first-hand experience with video game addiction. she may provide good information and advice if you ask.


  7. Tim said,

    I love videogames. However, I sometimes think that if my parents did what you are doing, I would be able to spend the time I now alogate for videogames on something else that is actually productive and benificial….
    But at the same time I’m glad my parents didn’t.

  8. Alice Gilmore said,

    I would like to add a word or two from experience. I have a 30 year son who is addicted to anything on the computer. He gets it from me, sad to say. I wish that I had done what weiszguy & gal did. My son hasn’t lived at home for years, but when I do get to speak to him, I usually ask if he is still viewing and downloading porn. Most of the time, his answer is yes.

    But when the answer is no, then he tells me about his newest obsessions like working with decompiling and recompiling an old video game in order to get it to work with the newest Operating Systems. Granted, I prefer him to be obsessed with that, but would prefer him to get some physical exercise.

    I am not much better, since I am on the computer 80% of my waking day, although 50-60% of that is for my job. I do a lot of research about anything and everything. When I am not on the computer, I feel a little lost.

    I would just like to applaud weiszguy & gal for their decision of unplugging the video games. In my eyes, any kind of electronics can be good in small amounts, but as humans, we have problems, in general, with doing anything in moderation.

    Addiction has been a huge factor in the way we raised our son, since alcoholism and smoking is predominant in our family. With this knowledge, my son doesn’t drink alcohol, smoke nor do drugs. Too bad my husband and I didn’t have the aforethought to think of computers in this way.

  9. Zen Valkaski said,

    Now hang on. Before you can say that all video games are addictive you need to understand what causes them to be addictive. I wonder if you have researched this thouroughly I’ve been studying the concept of a person being addicted to a video game. Do your children forgo activities such as chores? Do they play late into the night? Do their grades suffer? Also by “pulling the plug”
    on every game can cause a withdrawl symptom if your kids are truly addicted to playing video games.

    I think that your decision was rash and not well thought out. However it is not my place to tell you how to raise your kids. I would suggest looking into some of the online support groups and asking questions of the people in them that are actually addicted to playing video games.

    ~Zen Valkaski

  10. weiszguy said,

    Our kids were addicted.

    They begged continuously for more playing time. They did chores solely so they could get back to the games sooner. Talk of conquests and levels conquered dominated their conversation, even while not playing.

    After we pulled the plug, there were further signs of addiction. They were moping around all the time, not being able to think of anything to do. They asked several times in the following weeks if we were still serious. They would tell us about their friends who played video games – and their friends were still normal.

    But we’ve been video game free for five months now, and the games seem to be a distant memory for the kids. Our 10 year old has read all seven every Harry Potter books – just in the past five months. Our nine year old has read all the Little House books, including all the subsequent series – just in the past five months. We play non-video games with our kids – and it’s fun! My wife and I enjoy playing with the kids.

    Now that video games are no longer a part of our lives, and the health of our family has improved by an order of magnitude, tell me again why I should seek out online support groups? What questions would I ask people who are addicted that would help us in our situation? I think that your premature judgment of our parenting was more “rash and not well thought out” than our decision to pull the plug.

  11. Mithran Sudhir said,

    Whoa! As a kid, I had no clue that parenting could be THIS hard!

    I was fortunate to be among the handful, who happened to outgrow video games when books, sports and theatre came into my life. But, when I see my peers still hooked onto these brain-dread pastimes, I couldn’t agree more with WeiszGuy.

    I truly admire your decision to pull the plug on video games once and for all. And the kids seem to have taken it unusually well. So, hats off to them as well.

    Trust me, 10 years down the line, everyone in the family would be glad that you did what you did. The home is better off minus such hobbies.

    Doubting our parental decisions- which I have learned just comes with parenting-any way, I have come to the conclusion that I should continue to do research on my own, but the worst thing that could happen is that my kids are spared from a non-existent threat- the best is that we have protected them from something that has the potential to rob them of healthy relationships and a fulfilling future.

    – Weisgal, this one’s arguably the wisest piece since Plato…Well said!

  12. TChaney said,

    While my response will not nearly be as eloquent as some of the other posts, I feel compelled to relay my thoughts on this subject as well.

    I am 32 years old, have a BSME from the University of Dayton, am working on my MSME at Drexel University (currently a 3.67 GPA), have held a full time job for over 7 years, have a wife, a little girl, and a wonderful dog, and apparently what you all are saying is an “addiction” to video games.

    In my humble oppinion – and we are all allowed one – this is an instance where we allow ourselves to see what we want. My neighbor has four kids and they live and breathe football. The mother has to FORCE the middle son to come in out of every type of weather to do his homework, eat dinner etc because all he can think of and do is football. By your definition he is addicted. By there definition he is coming along nicely.

    Your responses and thoughts, while seemingly well thought out are easily countered by some unbiased research. Just google “benefits of video games” to see 1,510,000 hits. That is only google – do the same for actual research. Look into the fact that video games are now being used to train some of our most elite and dangerous fields – from neurosurgury to urban combat tactics. Can video games be bad? Yes. Can they have benefits? Yes. My parents did not take my video games away, but if you ask them I showed many of the same “addict” symptoms you describe. But she forced the time issue and I had to finish homework first, then chores, then I could play video games for a set time. In addition to that they held TIGHT control of what video games I was allowed to play. What about playing games as a family? And while MMORPG’s (massive multiplayer online role playing games) can be the most addictive, what about the benefit of meeting people from around the world? I had some very good friends that I met on Star Wars Galaxies. From France, Sweden, Germany, and even some US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    This seems to be an open and shut case for you as you have both never been video game enthusiasts. But what if someone took away reading for you Brian and Angie? Would you shake? What if you were not allowed to watch your favorite TV show or Movie ever again? I think that you are not looking at this issue with open eyes but rather some preconcieved notions based on YOUR personal thoughts and experiences and not the kids.

    All that being said, this is a personal issue and should be decided upon a child-by-child / household-to-household basis. Some kids / people have a natural tendancy to be “addictive” in their nature. If that is what your kids are showing then I can guarantee that it will not end with video games. That personality trait will latch onto footbal, basketball, girls, boys, shopping, or whatever the vice might be. I would also urge you to talk to some other people of various ages that play video games. If you decide to let your kids go back to video games then play with them. Don’t look at it as “quiet time” but rather a time to interact with your kids in a different manner. Video games can teach everything from decision making skills, to monetary responsibility, to social skills – yes I said social skills.

    And since it is late here and my sister ended with a quote from a wise philosopher, I shall end with one of my favorite philosopher’s sayings…

    “… people can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. Forfty percent of all people know that.”
    Homer Simpson, Home the Vigilante

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