My brother had this news report on the background, and I decided to look more into it. A lot of us spend a long time on the Internet and playing video games. I won't deny there are extreme cases when people will neglect their responsibilities in favor of games, but the same can be said for any other recreational activity. NBC's The Rock Center with Brian Williams did a story on internet addiction last night, and concluded with a grim portrayal of heavy internet users, especially gamers.
The report starts out with a 9-1-1 call in which Brooke McSweeney, mother of the 17-year old Chris, tells the operator her son had become violent after she took away his electronics. At the end of the story, we return to Chris and are told he had seen a therapist and had started playing football again, but instead of going out and celebrating with his teammates, he goes home to play online with friends. “He feels like they're there for him,” says Chris' mother. “They understand because they're – they're addicts too. That's his family now.” Even though we're told the American Psychiatric Association finds more research is needed for “Internet Use Disorder”, the rest of the video agrees with Chris' mother. On numerous occasions, they use the analogy that video game addiction is no different than drug or alcohol abuse, even though another psychiatrist in the video stated it is nowhere near as black and white.
Most of the interviews take place at reSTART, a rehabilitation center for internet addiction. “I think we're all in the same boat. No one set out to become addicted to drugs or alcohol, or to computer games,” says Brett Walker, one of the patients at reSTART. Founded in 2009, reSTART has treated over 500 patients for internet addiction. Walker was addicted to World of Warcraft prior to his admittance at reSTART, going weeks without showering and at times playing over twelve hours in a day. ““Everyone we've met at reSTART said their virtual lives have destroyed their real lives,” says Dr. Nancy Snyderman, chief medical editor at NBC. “I came in skeptical. I came out a believer. Because if you look at the brain scans, the same area where cocaine and heroin and sexual and – gambling addicts, their brains light up. Same thing for this. And they're rigged, these people are rigged to fail...And people mistakenly swap these online friends for the real deal.” What's strange is that in this same video, Dr. Elias Aboujaoude states it is uncertain whether the changes in the brain are a cause or an effect.
I take issue with the comments about internet friends somehow being less valuable. Much like the anger toward video games, the comments about their bad influences aren't that simple. There is nothing stopping a person from socializing on the Internet and in the real world, just like that same person can enjoy video games and still be responsible in his or her well-being. In my case, I'd argue that being more active on the Internet has made me into a more social person. After I started interacting with the Giant Bomb community, I began going to more conventions, blog about them, and even meet up with a few people I had previously known exclusively on the Internet. It is highly unlikely I would have accomplished any of those things if I wasn't on internet as much.
Do you guys have any thoughts on the report? You can do more reading on this story on Rock Center's site.