Yesterday The Sun published an article titled “Gaming As Addictive As Heroin”, a piece of “investigative journalism” that once again set out to attack and demonise the video game community that claims that one of the world’s most popular hobbies is as damaging to your health as one of the world’s most harmful illegal substances.
As someone who previously spent many years working for an alcohol and substance misuse service, this ridiculous claim from The Sun irked me not just on a personal level but also on a professional one. I decided to get in touch with an old colleague of mine, Dr Luxman Parimelalgan, who is not only a respected professional in the field of alcohol and substance misuse but also an incredibly avid gamer.
“After reading the article in The Sun, I find it both full of incorrect facts and actually vying away from the problem that is addiction. Addiction is defined as both a physical and a psychological need to undertake an action. Not all addictive behaviour can be classed as being negative; indeed an example is exercise which can have a positive effect on an individual.”
“Humans are born with an addictive nature, we crave pleasure and once we find a way to enhance this we like to repeat this action. This may come in the form of eating chocolate, working, exercising, playing video games, gambling or using illicit drugs. Addiction is also very personal in nature, not one of the examples previously is more addictive than the other but rather depends on the individual.
So what about The Sun’s headline claim that playing video games is “as addictive as heroin”? Dr Parimelalagan states “All pleasurable responses in the body lead to the release of certain neurotransmitters such as dopamine or serotonin; this a normal biological process. So the fact that video gaming releases dopamine when a gamer is enjoying his/her experience is expected and normal.”
“To compare this with the dopamine release when using heroin (which is also pleasurable to the user) was only to create headlines and not a true reflection of the biological process. The neurological scans if comparing for a person close to winning a bet on a horse race or eating chocolate will be very similar but less headline grabbing. I am sure The Sun would not publish an article that gaming is just as addictive as chocolate or exercising.”
Even Dr Mark Griffiths, director of the International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University, who contributed to The Sun article has also commented in a follow-up piece by Eurogamer that their second claim that “Britain is in the grip of a gaming addiction which poses as big a health risk as alcohol and drug abuse” is “incorrect”.
“I’ve spent well over 25 years studying video game addiction. If we’re we’re going to use the word addiction we have to use the same concepts, signs and symptoms we find in other more traditional addictions, like withdrawal and tolerance. By doing that the number of people who end up being addicted by my criteria are actually few and far between.”
“It’s quite clear that some, whether it’s kids or young adults, have some problems around the fact they seem to be unable to control the amount of time they spend gaming, and maybe it’s impacting other areas of their life. But just because there are some addictive-like components there it doesn’t mean they’re genuinely addicted.”
As Ben Parfitt points out in his piece on MCV, The Office for National Statistics reported in February that there were 8,367 alcohol related deaths in the UK in 2012 and the The International Centre for Drug Policy at St George’s, University of London estimated 1,750 illegal drug related deaths in 2011. Compared to a whopping zero proven gaming related deaths in the UK and ten potentially gaming related deaths worldwide in recent years, it’s more than a hard stretch to claim that “Britain is in the grip of a gaming addiction which poses as big a health risk as alcohol and drug abuse”.
Like any member of the gaming community, I find it incredibly disheartening whenever I see the mainstream media attacking and demonising video games, especially when they spin quotes to suit their agenda. Even simply looking at the amazing work that SpecialEffect do for people with physical disabilities, we all know that gaming does a lot of good and has had a hugely positive impact on our lives. As such, I think it would be great to showcase quotes from gamers worldwide as to how gaming has helped, not harmed, your life.
If you want to take part, simply chuck out a tweet with your own personal example of how gaming has helped you with the hashtag #HelpsNotHarms and it’ll be added to the feed below.