Addiction to MMORPGs: Symptoms and Treatment
By Dr. Kimberly Young
There are an abundant online games in our internet-dependent society. The most common online
games include gambling, which is also a prime candidate for addiction, massively multi-player
online role playing games (MMORPGs) and multi-user domain games (MUDs). MMORPGs are
networks of players, who interact with each other to achieve goals, go on missions, and reach
high scores in a fantasy world, while MUDs combine elements of role-playing games, fighting,
killing in social chat channels with limited graphics.
MMORPGs originated from Dungeons and Dragons, a role playing game played on pen and
paper from the 1970s. Eventually, computers revolutionized role playing games; first with
Ultima Online in 1997, then EverQuest and Asheron Call. These three pioneer MMORPGs were
coined the "Big Three" that utlimately attracted Western players. Since the "Big Three," many
other games of this genre have sprouted. Some of the most popular MMORPGs today are
EverQuest, World of Warcraft, Asheron Call, Ultima Online, and City of Heroes. Most
MMORPGs charge a one-month subscrition fee of about $15. South Korea boasts the highest
number of online subscribers.
MUDs are very similar to MMORPGs. However, MUDs must be created by the players in the
game, while MMORPGs only require you to create a character to start on a predetermined quest.
MUDs require much more social interaction because they were originally chat-based. There are
very few commercial MUDs due to the constantly growing market of free games.
Signs of MMORPG Addiction
Parents across the globe are increasingly concerned about their sons and daughters online
gaming habits. They are sure that there is a problem but counselors unfamiliar with online
gam ing addiction donA!A|t understand how seductive they can be.
One parent that I had worked with told me she had gone to talked to her son's guidance counselors, the school psychologist, and
two local addiction rehabilitation centers. No one had ever heard of someone getting addicted to
X-Box. They all told me it was a phase and that I should try to limit my son's game playing.
They didn't understand that I couldn't. He had lost touch with reality. My son lost interest in
everything else. He didn't want to eat, sleep, or go to school, the game was the only thing that
mattered to him. When I told him to get offline, he yelled, screamed, and once, he pushed me.
This isn't my son. He's a quiet and loving boy. Now, I don't know who he is.A"
Parents search for information and help of any kind as they helplessly watch their sons and
daughters become more absorbed into the computer and begin to see the warning signs of a
dangerous pattern. Gamers who become hooked show clear signs of addiction. Like a drug,
gamers who play almost every day, play for extended periods of time (over 4 hours), get restless
or irritable if they can't play, and sacrifice other social activities just to game are showing signs
Common warning signs include:
A preoccupation with gaming
Lying or hiding gaming use
Disobedience at time limits
Loss of interest in other activities
Social withdrawal from family and friends
Psychological withdrawal from the game
Using gaming as an escape
Continuing to game despite its consequences
Prevalence of MMORPG Addiction
Korea is perhaps the most wired country in the world and is suffering from a rapidly growing
number of online game addicts, according to a public counseling agency. The Korea Agency for
Digital Opportunity and Promotion (KADO), a specialized government agency aimed at bridging
the digital divide, said yesterday the total number of officially reported cases by 40 game
addiction counseling agencies in the country posted 6,271 during the first half of the year.
In the first six months of 2005, new cases of gaming addicts have already approached the total
number of cases filed in 2004, an estimated 8,978 according to the KADO forecasts and they
estimate that the prospective number of counseling cases in 2006 will exceed 10,000.
As the country has the largest market of Internet-based multi-user role playing games in the
world, Korean online gamers may be more exposed to the risk of addiction compared to those of
other countries. While these statistics are preliminary, they may be applicable to suggest
estimates for other countries such as the US, the UK, or China as more data becomes available.
Treatment for MMORPG Addiction
Compulsive disorders can manifest themselves in many non-chemical means such as gaming,
food, shopping, or high-risk sexual behavior, and the mental health field is just beginning to
acknowledge the addictive potential of the Internet to the same extent. While research in the
addiction field has not been conclusive, most researchers agree that a combination of
neurochemical and behavioral bases explain addictive behavior and studies support that nonintoxicants
are equally as habit-forming as substances. Despite these research findings, most
Internet addicts deny that anyone can "get addicted to a
machineA" and it is the family and friends
who first view the behavior as troublesome.
For players who do admit they have a problem, the most common response is a guilt-and-purge
cycle common to many addictions.
Many players who realize that they are addicted will kill their
characters and delete the game softw are with no regrets; how ever, many game addicts aren't as
For most players, true recovery involves looking at the issues underlying the game habit.
Addicted players need to examine the emotional motives that prompt them to play a game
excessively and look for alternate ways to satisfy those needs. For many, therapy is necessary for
recovery to take place because many need to realize that there is something else going on and
they need to be in charge of changing it.As in any treatment program, the primary step to take in the path to recovery is to accept and not
refute "denial" a defense mechanism that addicts frequently employ and that effectively stops
them from accepting treatment. Once this obstacle is conquered, treatment can be performed
more effectively than it would otherwise.
It is important to understand that compulsive online
gaming is a progressive illness that is treatable. It affects the gamer, their family, their school
work or their employer, and their community. It is called "the hidden illness" since there is no
smell on the breath nor stumbling of steps or speech. Nonetheless, it is as debilitating as
alcoholism or drug addiction.Often, gamers have other problems that are part of the reason they game. They also have
problems that were produced by their gaming. These include relationship, work-related, legal,
emotional problems such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse. It is not known whether
one problem causes the other. It is more important to get a clear picture of your immediate
concerns and treat them in a structured and systematic manner.
Residential care may be required when the effects of the game have become severe. Often
gamers refuse treatment until they become deeply depressed, are kicked out of school, are
terminated from a job, are threatened with divorce and separation, or are thinking about suicide. Once problems have become this severe, it is important to seek professional help for evaluation.
Residential treatment programs often last for 4 to 6 weeks of intensive treatment. Some gamers
may require more or less time, so recommendations will be made following an initial assessment.
Bio: Dr. Kimberly Young is the executive director of the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery
(www.netaddiction.com), a recovery service and consultation firm specializing in Internetrelated
conditions. She is also Professor of Management Sciences at St. Bonaventure
UniversityA!A|s School of Business and has written numerous articles on Internet addiction
including two recovery books, Caught in the Net and Tangled in the Web.
Edited by: lizwool at: 11/17/06 12:03