Don't Just Take Away the Xbox: Psychiatrist
If a young gamer's showing signs of addiction, "cold turkey" is far from the best course of action, Dr. Block suggests. Here's why....
The details emerging from a tragic national story about a missing boy in Canada point to an important observation about videogaming: that taking away a videogame (or device it's played on) does not have the same effect as taking away a toy or conventional game. Fifteen-year-old Brandon Crisp of Barrie, Ontario, missing for more than two weeks, left the house angry after his father took away his Xbox console. His father told the Toronto Globe and Mail that "this has become his identity, and I didn't realize how in-depth this was until I took his Xbox away." His mother "would wake in the middle of the night to hear ... Brandon, speaking into his headset as he feverishly played [the Xbox game] 'Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare'," the Globe and Mail reports in another article, adding that his parents are "sure Brandon had become addicted to the game and link its appeal" to his disappearance.
Portland, Ore.-based psychiatrist Jerald Block emailed me a heads-up about this story last weekend. So I took the opportunity to ask him, one of the US's leading experts on videogame addiction, how this kind of addiction can be treated - what I can tell parents about that. He started and ended with that question, but in the middle of his answer are some very helpful insights for anyone who cares about or works with an addicted gamer - parents, friends, educators, policymakers - into the impact that sudden removal from a videogame's world can have....
Why game addiction's hard to treat
How to treat this addiction is "a good question," Dr. Block wrote me, "and one that I hate because it has no easy answer. I have treated many cases and I am still trying to figure out what works best and for whom. But here's what I've learned about gaming in general and gamers of all ages: Gaming is particularly hard to treat as it is 1) enjoyable, 2) an outlet for despair/anger/sex, 3) readily available, 4) time-consuming and thus fills in otherwise unpleasant 'spaces' in one's life, 5) a social forum with Virtual or simulated people, 6) a source of power, and 7) a portrayal of a fair, equal world.
"When people elect to voluntarily give all that up, they generally struggle with their mood and anger. If they are *forced* to give it up, all those emotions become amplified; any fanciful notions of power or control are trampled when they're disconnected against their will.
"Also, unplugging the computer can vividly demonstrate how intangible and fragile the Virtual is and can lead to existential crisis. This is a complex concept, but I consider it crucial. People are spending 30, 40, 50, or more hours a week powering up and getting success on their computers. They work hard at mastering the games and technology. They make significant sacrifices in terms of time and effort. The mastery becomes representative, in a psychological sense, of one's self-worth.
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