Missing classes to play online games
Columbia News Service
Feb. 22, 2006 04:31 PM
When Tom Andrys first entered Ohio Wesleyan University, he boasted a dual major in psychology and neuroscience. Three years later, Andrys, 21, now hopes to complete an associateAC/a,!a,,C/s degree from a community college in Iowa.
The change came as he found himself spending less and less time in class and more and more hours online playing massive multi-user online role-playing games (MMORGs).
After dropping out of Ohio Wesleyan, he transferred to the Art Institute of California in San Francisco as a game design major. But his compulsion to venture into the virtual world again got in the way. advertisement
"I got hooked onto 'World of Warcraft' and steadily started dropping classes and was eventually attendance dis-enrolled," Andrys wrote in an e-mail interview.
He was drawn to "World of Warcraft," which allows players to create their own characters; explore digital forests, deserts and mountains; and interact with other players on common quests.
"I always liked imagining complex fantasy worlds to play in," Andrys wrote. "ItAC/a,!a,,C/s a very structured and safe environment. If you put in enough time, youAC/a,!a,,C/re pretty much guaranteed to succeed. In the game I had a mount and spiffy armor with a pocket full of gold. At school, I was skipping classes and my grades were sliding, but in AC/a,!EoeWorld of Warcraft,AC/a,!a,,C/ I was leveling up at a steady pace."
Like Andrys, many college students are enticed by the dynamic graphics and sense of belonging offered by the gamesAC/a,!a,,C/ online communities, but they also find that the more they play, the harder it is to log off, and their classes and friendships pay the price.
Nick Yee, a Ph.D. candidate in communications at Stanford, has studied online games for six years--surveying as many as 35,000 players. He said that about 50 percent of MMORG players he questioned considered themselves to be addicted, with the highest range of problematic usage in males between ages 18 to 22. He notes that some games encourage intensive participation through a system of rewards and help players make friends through guilds and teamwork-based quests.
This can be especially seductive to college students who feel overwhelmed by the schoolAC/a,!a,,C/s academic and social environment.
"Sometimes it is a college studentAC/a,!a,,C/s first time away from home," said Dr. Maressa Hecht Orzack, a clinical psychologist and faculty member at Harvard Medical School who opened a computer addiction clinic at BostonAC/a,!a,,C/s McLean Hospital. "He or she may have been very good in high school, but all of a sudden it is harder to be successful."
Orzack has treated many teen and college-aged gaming addicts using cognitive and behavioral therapies as well as meditation, relaxation, visualization and highly structured group therapy.
Online discussion groups like "World of Warcraft" Widows and "EverQuest" Widows provide a space for people to share their fears about family members who are gaming addicts. Online Gamers Anonymous also offers support for gamers and their relatives, advocating a cold turkey approach that involves smashing the game CDs.
"My son was 19 when he started playing 'EverQuest,'" recalled Elizabeth Woolley, a computer technician who founded Online Gamers Anonymous after her son Shawn committed suicide while playing the 3D monster-slaying game in 2001. "He had played other computer games growing up and had no problem with them. 'EverQuest' was the first of the new generation of games. It is no match for a teenager."
Woolley hopes that colleges will open Online Gamers Anonymous chapters and provide counseling for addicted students, but she fears that students and administrators often play down the risks. "They say, AC/a,!EoeIt could be worse, they could be drinking or drugging.AC/a,!a,,C/ But kids are not talking to their families, not eating, not going outside. How much worse can it get?"
But many question whether gaming is an addiction at all, arguing that the games mask depression or other mood disorders. Amy Bruckman, an associate professor at the College of Computing at Georgia Tech, has studied multi-user online gaming since the early 1990s. She finds fault with the addiction label.
"People need help getting balance in their lives, whether it means doing sports, playing the guitar or eating junk food," Bruckman said. "I donAC/a,!a,,C/t think those are any different than playing these games too much." She says it is a mistake for colleges to ban the games, as some religious colleges like Bob Jones University have done.
"I think it is useful to find ways to encourage people not to completely eliminate them because games are fun," Bruckman said. She also hopes that game designers create virtual quests that may allow for shorter play time.
And despite the cost, some former gamers say they learned key job skills in the process. Brennan Bailey described his collegiate flirtation with an early text-based role-playing game that led him to leave the University of California at Riverside when his GPA dropped to 1.4.
"Once I played 56 hours in a single sitting, not counting catnaps," said Bailey, 33, who has since quit playing complex online games for simpler versions he can enjoy in 20 minute stints. "It was an escape, like a separate life, and it eclipsed my real life for a while."
Now he is a senior systems administrator, working for an Internet market research firm in San Diego. Though he acknowledges that gaming once ruled his life, he also credits it with his success in the workplace.
"It did have its upsides," Bailey said. "My typing skills are much higher, I know my way around different operating systems and learned problem solving and coding skills. There is no doubt that I wouldnAC/a,!a,,C/t be where I am without playing the games."