I've hesitated to post this because it's a very personal matter and something that a lot of people don't understand, but I'm seeing more and more of it and parents need to know what to look for. We've been dealing with this for over a year now, and I don't want anyone on this board to have to go through what we've been going through.
My 20-year-old son is an online gaming addict. He is addicted to the game World of Warcraft (aka World of Warcrack or WoW). We found this out last December when he failed 3 out of his 4 classes freshman year at a state U. We didn't actually know he was addicted at that point, just that he had spent more time gaming than going to class. He promised he would do better second semester and that he had deleted the game from his computer and we believed him. In spite of keeping closer contact and keeping in touch with his profs, he failed second semester also. A couple of times during the semester he cut off all communications, refusing to answer cellphone, landline, or e-mail. Twice we were afraid something horrible may have happened to him and just jumped in the car and drove down there to find him. We had him evaluated for psychiatric disorders but nothing exactly fit. We knew something terrible was happening but had no clue what it was. After he failed second semester we sent him with his brother to live and work at an amusement park for the summer, hoping the hard work and public contact would be good for him, and knowing that his big brother would be there to keep an eye on him. After he left, I read a news article in the Wall Street Journal one day about a new rehab unit for online gaming addicts opening in the Netherlands. I had no clue that someone could get so addicted to games that they would require inpatient rehab. I started looking for more information on the internet and my husband suggested I search for "gamers anonymous", which I did, and found OLGA and OLGA-NON (you can find them at [url=http://www.olganonboard.org).]www.olganonboard.org).[/url] There I learned some incredible things about the world of online games, particularly the World of Warcraft. I've learned that the newer internet games, called MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing games) are designed intentionally to require longer and longer sessions in the game, eventually 8, 10, 12 or more hours at a time, and sometimes more (there have been reports of people spending DAYS in the game, to the point of collapse and even death). Players who "level up" to the higher levels can only advance their status or gain new treasure or powers by joining guilds which require the presence of 40 members to go on "raids". Peer pressure to stay in the game comes into play at that point and it becomes nearly impossible to be just a casual player by then. Serious players will neglect their classes, their jobs, and their families, spending sometimes 80-100 hours per week in the game. Our son came home in the fall and enrolled in community college, but found a way to play offline games whenever he could (we disconnected his internet access) and failed all his classes again. We locked up his computer at that point. Now he is just drifting. He is angry and sullen, completely in denial.
The important thing is that he was a completely normal kid before he got into this game. He comes from a stable 2-parent churchgoing family, got good grades, had lots of friends, never used drugs or alcohol, never smoked, never even swore at home. He was a bright, happy, witty kid with a very sharp mind. Now he has a dificult time with normal human interactions, can't communicate clearly, won't even make eye contact with people. He's a completely different person. He has dropped all of his normal activities and let his friends drift away. Now he has nothing to fill his day except a few hours of work every night. We are trying to get him involved in things that he can handle, a little at a time. He can handle interactions with family now, and he is out playing cards with some friends tonight for the first time in probably over a year. From reading the boards at OLGANON, I know he can never play that game again, and that other games are just as dangerous. WoW is not the only MMORPG out there. There are several others (Ultima Online, Final Fantasy, Everquest, Quake, Doom, and a whole list of others), but WoW is the most popular by far. There are over 7 million players and growing.
If your children play computer games, particularly if they play online, you need to know what they are playing and what's involved in the game. If they are playing more than an hour or two a day. they may have a serious problem. This addiction affects adults too. If you have a spouse or significant other who plays online for hours and hours, or if anyone on this board is afraid they are spending too much time in a game, there is help at olganonboard.org.
Anyone who saw the SouthPark episode about online gaming should know that it was not a joke. There is a pretty frightening program that addresses this issue and other serious internet problems called THS Investigates Online Nightmares" which is scheduled to play again on E! tomorrow (Wednesday) at 3PM CST.
I don't know what will happen to my boy. He is going to try another semester at school, on a more restricted schedule. I can see it will be a long time before he is normal again.
Sorry this was so long, but the information is important.
AnnaM, that is a chilling tale. I am so sorry this is happening to your son. I know that it must be very hard for you, too. Addiction is such a difficult problem. They say that it can happen to anyone, and that none of us should think we are immune. Thanks for sharing the information and resources, and I hope that very few of us will ever have to use them.
I hope that with time, and with your love and support, your son will be able to work through this and come out a stronger person.
Thanks all of you. What I should have also mentioned is that, given the numbers I have seen in my research (10% of regular internet gamers will become addicted), this is something that many of you will be seeing in your practice, particularly primary care and psych. So if you see someone who is failing at life but doesn't seem to quite fit the usual diagnoses, or doesn't get better with the usual treatment, ask about their gaming habits (and internet use in general).