Gamecyte interview with Dr. David Walsh (Hollister, 2008)

Via Gamepolitics.com, gamecyte interviewed Dr. David Walsh of the National Institute on Media and Family. I liked Dr.Walsh’s answers since they are well-grounded and he is quite in touch with everything, from gamers’, industry’s and parents’ perspective. Unlike certain crusaders. What really surprised me is how he took the media and politicians’ reactions to video game addiction:

Oh, I think it will be, but I think what we need to do is gather a bit of information. I think what’s happening, not just here in the United States but in other countries as well, is that there’s some percentage of gamers — and no one quite knows what the percentage is, different surveys have put it at different percentages — but for some percentage of gamers, it seems to become an obsession. Other things in their life get neglected, sometimes even their health gets neglected, their grades start to suffer, relationships start to suffer, and so it starts to bear all the behavioral hallmarks of an addition. And so I think that’s why the term has emerged. Of course, the term itself is controversial, because there are some, particularly in academia, who say that addiction signifies something that has to do with a chemical change. A dependency to a chemical. But we do have other behaviors that are recognized as addictions, the most common example to bear would be gambling addiction.

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of debate now, ten, fifteen years after the term was first introduced, that there are some people for whom gambling — which is a behavior, not a substance — literally takes over their lives. For some gamers, gaming seems to be something that starts to have a negative impact on their lives, and they don’t seem to be able to stop it. Now, the reason I believe that it’s going to become more and more of an issue is because the anecdotal reports are coming in at a greater frequency than ever before. I did my first public presentation on this at a conference a month ago, a conference sponsored by one of the leading chemical dependency treatment centers in the country, Hazeldon. It’s the first time I’ve ever given a full presentation on the whole question of video game addiction, and based on the reaction of the two-hundred professionals from all over the country who were in that room, this is not an issue that’s going to go away. In the question-and-answer period afterwards, therapists and counselors from all over the country were saying, “We’re seeing this in our offices every week, more and more frequently,” and so I think the frequency is definitely something that’s getting people’s attention.

I mentioned it to a group of researchers at the university of Minnesota, just in a casual conversation last spring, and an informal study group has evolved, and our challenge now is keeping the study group a manageable size — because there are more and more researchers who want to be a part of this, and it is something that I think people are seeing.

I think it’s an issue — and I’ll use that word — that is going to get more and more attention. And of course, so little reasearch has been done on it — we need to figure out what the heck it is that we’re talking about. (laughs) People see the behaviors, and so people in counseling offices, parents and spouses, are seeing the behaviors; but as happens with all issues like this, it’s going to take a certain amount of time for people to say, “You know, this is something that we need to take seriously and therefore we need to find out something about it. Because as you know, there’s been very very little research that’s been done.

Any kind of compulsive behavior that gets on the radar screen goes through a certain history, and this one is following that history. And the first part of the history is denial. That was true of alcoholism. If you turn back the clock fifty years, alcoholism was not a disease — alcoholism was a moral defect. And alcoholics were bums. That’s why Alcoholics Anonymous — the word “anonymous” — was a very important part of that movement, because back in the 1950s, in the middle part of the last century it was extremely shameful; it was a moral degeneracy. Now today, alcoholism is a bonafide mental disease. When casinos started to pop up around the country twenty years ago, on reservations and Indian gaming, gambling moved out of Las Vegas and Atlantic City, and with the problems people started to see they began to talk about gambling addiction. And of course, the reaction then was “Oh, come on, it’s not an addition — these people just need to learn how to control their gambling.” Today, we acknowledge that there’s a gambling addiction.

Where we will go with video games, compulsive video game playing, whatever the term is, where we will end up with that ten years from now, I’m not quite sure. But I think it is something we’ll have to take seriously, and the people who just pooh-pooh it and say there’s nothing to it — they haven’t talked to the parents or the spouses that I’ve been talking to in the last couple of years.

What my hope is is that there’s not a backlash against anyone. What my hope is is that there’s a recognition that for some people, this is a problem, and we have to figure out A.) how to prevent it from happening in the first place, or B.) for those for whom it does become a problem, figure out how to help them effectively. I would not hope that, just as I don’t want to condemn an alcohol industry because some people become alcoholics, just as I don’t want to close down all the casinos because there are some people who become compulsive gamblers, I would hope that we wouldn’t go after companies that produce video games because for some people it becomes a problem.

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