Video game addiction and the steps necessary to go about resolving the growing numbers of cases are essentially caught between a rock and a hard place. The negative effects of addiction are demonized by those external to the video game community and glamorized by those within it. I myself am guilty of this behaviour; the morning after a particularly lengthy late night video gaming session online with my friends my neck is stiff and sore, my wrist is achey and I’m running late for work because I overslept, yet I can’t ignore that small sense of pride in my pain, knowing that I played well. Of course, my employer wouldn’t think of that as a legitimate reason to be late, I can’t imagine any employer would, so I would most likely mutter an apology and/or excuse to avoid being judged for my poor life choices. For those suffering from video game addiction, however, there is less a sense of choice in the matter and more a feeling of obligation based on the unconscious impression that the reward attained for committing to the game would be more satisfying that the reward of maintaining a regular job. This is a key feature of any addictive tendancies – maintaining a habit despite serious and regular negative consequences on other areas of the addict’s life.
For people external to the gaming community, the negative effects are often overstated or falsified and used as a pseudo-legitimate argument against video game culture. An example of this would be the frequent notion that violent individuals, such as the two young men responsible for the Columbine School Massacre, act on their violent nature because video games encourage them to do so (despite a severe lack of academic basis for said arguments). As a result, those within the gaming community can feel discriminated against very easily based on the negative “gamer” stereotype and will vehemently defend their lifestyle. The urge to legitimize what it is to be a gamer combined with this defensive nature inevitably leads to a pissing contest between gamers, based on who has played more hours in a row or who has more posture problems or whose thumbs are more bruised from excessive button mashing. What is intended as good natured, competitive banter quickly becomes a form of glamorization of the negative side effects of unhealthy play – which, while inadvertent, is perpetuating and enabling individuals who are legitimately suffering from these effects due to an addiction struggle.
Taking any negative side effects seriously could ostracise a gamer from their social community but ignoring them to retain their social standing is dangerous and adds more fuel to the fire of those who argue against video games. Academic and healthcare professional recognition of video game addiction is still in the adolescent stages of research, so whether you consider yourself within or external to “gamer” culture, your opinion and treatment of the effects of video gaming do make a difference on those struggling, whether you realise it or not. If we can reduce the gamer need to defend the gaming lifestyle, the depth of the problems that video game addicts face can be legitimized and treated with much more ease than is currently available.