EL PASO, Texas — Equipped with a sniper rifle and shotgun, a Spartan II soldier takes one furtive step at a time under a blistering sun, trying to elude the enemy. Suddenly, he sees an enemy soldier and he goes to fire his weapon — but it’s too late — and a kill-shot to the head drops him on the spot.
“Headshot,” the sniper yells out as six friends — all in their 20’s — in two teams of three players battle in the virtual warfare of Halo3. Playing video games, a way of life for the six of them, dominates their free time. But parents and doctors wonder if this behavior amounts to a dangerous addiction or just social interaction.
Arthur Smith, 23, former UTEP student who has been gaming since the age of four, plays video games 25 to 30 hours a week. “It’s my drug, because I’m always playing and I’m always finding out more information on gaming everyday… I would say I’m addicted,” Smith said.
Video game addiction is a phrase that has been used in the last couple years, but is not recognized by the American Medical Association as an actual addiction. As technology improves, the games become more realistic. Graphics transport the players to a complex world and intricate story lines challenge their minds. The online-play feature allows players to fight others anywhere in the world.
In a study described in the May 2009 edition of the Journal Psychological Science, Iowa State University Assistant Professor of Psychology Douglas Gentile said that more than 8 percent of youngsters ranging in age from 8 to 18 in the U.S. show symptoms of an addiction to video games, which he calls “pathological behavior.”
When he analyzed data from the 2007 study obtained from a survey of 1,178 American boys and girls from ages (8-18) what he found was staggering. “Although the general public uses the word ‘addiction,’ clinicians often report [the behavior] as pathological use,” Gentile said.
The average “addicted” gamer played 24 hours a week, which is twice as much as casual gamers. He also found that 25 percent of the surveyed gamers reported turning to video games in an attempt to escape problems, or instead of doing homework.
Maria Luisa Hernandez-Lopez, a counselor at UTEP’s University Counseling Center who counsels students on addiction said, “addiction is engaging in a behavior that becomes compulsive and harmful for an individual.”
According to Hernandez-Lopez, students might have a problem if a person tries to stop before and change their behavior, but they continue going back and making promises to themselves that they are going to stop. Those promises almost always never work and they end up broken.
Justin Gibson, 23 year-old for UTEP student plays video games 30 hours a week and even has competed in gaming tournaments that he has won or has finished second. He believes that there is no such thing as an addiction to video games. “No, I am not addicted to video games. I go through phases that I don’t play for weeks. I think people who say they are addicted are just saying excuses,” Gibson said.
Lists of symptoms of addiction include using something to escape from reality, increased usage, and engaging in the behavior at any cost. When engaged in the behavior players feel happy and secured, but afterwards may feel guilty.
Eric Biernacki, a 23 year-old, who currently attends UTEP admits to playing video games 20 hours a week, but loves gaming because of the competitiveness. “I can quit playing but I don’t want to. I guess I am addicted but it’s not a bad addiction it doesn’t run my life, plus I can do things I wouldn’t get to do in real life.”
Only time will tell if the American Medical Association will recognize video game addiction as an medical addiction, but for the six who play video games whether they are addicted or not do not seem to be bothered by it.
“Kids all across the world are on the streets getting involved in things they shouldn’t be doing, so I don’t mind staying inside on my free time playing games and knowing that I am being safe,” former 24 year-old UTEP student Troy Henckel said.