If you have ever insisted on playing just “one more life” in SuperMario Bros, or have put off responsibilities to finish a game of Words With Friends, you have likely gotten a taste of the intense video game addiction that can become all-consuming and irreversibly damaging to families.
As video games have become increasingly complex and realistic,video game addicts are surfacing at a growing rate. WebMD is calling compulsive gaming a modern-day psychological disorder. It is is not only an addiction that has the ability to take over and ruin the lives of the gamers, it is killing off marriages at a rapidly accelerating pace.
“Addiction has long been a commonly cited reason for divorce,” says Scottsdale divorce lawyer Scott David Stewart. “However, it typically has been substance abuse and gambling. However, recently we have seen more and more cases involving video game addiction leading to divorce.”
Addiction is defined with the following criteria: The person needs more and more of a substance or behavior to keep him going, and if the person does not get more of the substance or behavior he becomes irritable and miserable. Compulsive gaming meets these criteria, and can be accompanied with severe withdrawal symptoms. Kimberly Young, PsyD and clinical director of the Center for On-Line Addiction says that she has seen intense gaming withdrawals. “They become angry, violent, or depressed.” Video game addicts typically display symptoms of depression, feelings of being left out, PTSD, memories of a bad situation, anxiety, ADD, obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Studies have shown that between 10% and 15% of video game players have the potential to become gaming addicts.
A 2011 study conducted by Divorce Online found that 15% of women who cite “unreasonable behavior” as the root cause of their divorce have pointed to video games as the chief culprit. The increase is astronomical – in the previous year (2010) only five percent of those women polled cited video gaming as the primary unreasonable behavior that led to their desire to divorce.
World of Warcraft, Call of Duty and Halo top the list when it comes to divorce-causing games. The most addictive are massively multiplayer online games with roleplaying components, because they give the gamers an entirely new reality to be a part of. These types of games allow players to take on a different, more impressive personality. Gamers can essentially transform into a superhuman being, and the lure can be overpowering.
“Playing `World of Warcraft’ makes me feel godlike,” Van Cleave, former video game addict, wrote in a book he authored titled Unplugged: My Journey Into the Dark World of Video Game Addiction. “I have ultimate control and can do what I want with few real repercussions. The real world makes me feel impotent … a computer malfunction, a sobbing child, a suddenly dead cell phone battery – the littlest hitch in daily living feels profoundly disempowering.”
Video game companies spend millions of dollars to produce their top games, and pay experts to make their games addicting. In some games, behavior is controlled with simple stimulus and reward methods. Other games will have new visually appealing images appear every six seconds to keep gamer attention and urge them to continue on. Repetition creates habits, and motivation to continue on to the next level.
When most people picture compulsive video gamers, they see a teenage boy eating Cheetos and drinking Mountain Dew. In reality, only about 18% of gamers fit the stereotype of being boys under 17 years old. Many gamers are adults, and most are male. Research carried out by the Stanford University of Medicine found that the reward centers of men’s brains were more activated than those in women’s brains, making males much more easily addicted to video games.
Compulsive gaming can be just as debilitating to marriages as other behavioral addictions like Internet porn and online gambling. In fact, there has already been a name coined for wives whose spouses favored their video games to their marriage – “gamer widows.”
There are solutions for gaming addiction, that may help save marriages. Spouses are encouraged to work out a gaming agreement, in which real life events can take priority over games, and gaming agendas can depend on true circumstances. Couples are urged to brainstorm things that they can do together – many times, gamers don’t realize that they are alienating their spouse, while other times they use their games as a tool to keep themselves remote. If the gamer can address that part of the problem, and wants to fix it, they can do things like go hiking, cooking and playing interactive games with their spouse. As with any addiction, the addict has to be willing to admit their habit and have a desire to alter and improve it.