I recently found this interesting article on gaming addiction in which the author resists the idea that we call problematic gaming an addiction, both due to a lack of evidence and because blaming the behaviour on addiction can mask other problems such as depression and social anxiety.
‘while a minority of game players do experience symptoms normally associated with addiction including mood modification, tolerance and salience, it’s unclear in most cases whether an individual’s apparent addiction is the cause of these symptoms rather than a symptom itself of another (co-morbid) disorder they may have, the most common being depression.’
She also makes the interesting point that it is the kind of simple games that bored people like to play on facebook that can potentially be the most addictive.
‘Violent videogames such as Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto are considered most problematic because of their violent content. But it’s actually the “simple” games, such as Angry Birds and Bejeweled that are most similar to gambling.They balance failure with reward in a way that takes advantage of neural systems associated with pathological gambling.’
I’m not an expert on addictive behaviour in any way, but I don’t think addictive elements in MMORPGs like WoW should be dismissed as easily the author does. Sure, WoW, as she writes, is a social activity, and that’s one of the reasons I myself enjoyed it so much, but so is high-stakes poker.
Just because World of Warcraft is social doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have the reward/failure combination that causes behavioural addiction. My view is that the complexity of games like WoW simply mask the basic failure/reward systems that make them addictive, and justify the amount of time people spend playing them, while the social aspect simply adds pressure to keep up with other players.
Gaming addiction is seen as part of the broader ‘Internet Addiction’, something that the South Korean government has considered ‘one of its most serious public health issues’ for years. As early as 1996 Psychologist Kimberley Young found that dependent internet users showed behaviour similar to the symptoms of pathological gambling. So maybe there’s no set definition but the evidence is certainly there, and maybe it does have connections to other disorders, but that doesn’t mean we should dismiss internet use and gaming that becomes addictive behaviour, because that’ll just make it harder for people to stop if they are truly addicted.