How to Understand Computer Addiction

Once I saw a documentary about computer addiction on German television. There was a segment on a 40-year old man who lost his house, job, girlfriend, and friends, and all of this because of World of Warcraft. With tears in his eyes, he recalled the day he missed his sister’s funeral. After a 72-hour game marathon, he thought he could stay awake long enough. Instead, he fell asleep until midday when his mother called him to ask where he was. Likely, he’ll never forget that day.

Stories like these are, of course, extreme cases, but they do exist. It’s shortsighted to assume these stories as the rule. There’s an undeniable fact, though, in some countries, a lot of teenagers fall victim to the grasp of the computer. In South Korea, you find whole institutions specializing in Internet addiction. At the center of any computer addiction is the Internet.

How to Understand Computer AddictionMy previous article about computer addiction met with a great amount of response, and also some great feedback with personal experiences. Before I reflect on some of those comments, I would like to weigh in with own experiences.

The day my parents bought me the original NES system is a day I vividly recall. It feels like that was a thousand centuries ago. I remember vividly the golden cartridge of Zelda, and also how many times my mother hid it away when I was neglecting my chores; almost as often, she would forget where she had hidden it. Another cartridge that was lost a few times was Super Mario Bros 3.

We would get into many arguments over how long and how often I could play in a day. When the first computer arrived with Windows 95 on it, things became even harder for my parents. Age of Empires and SimCity 2000 were the new time-eaters. They robbed me of all interest to go outside for a while.

Yes, I was and still am addicted to any kind of Internet device. By that I mean computers, phones, tablets, and anything that’s connected to the Internet. Back in the day it wasn’t all about the Web, though. In a way, it was easier to disconnect from the digital world then than it is today. This is one reason why I halted all my use of social media.

According to this CNN report from 2010 on gaming in South Korea, there’s now a nighttime curfew in place. “The government introduced the recent nighttime shut down one month after police discovered a three-month-old baby who starved to death while her parents were busy nurturing their virtual baby on a game at an Internet cafĂ©.” Again, these are extreme cases where all sanity seems to have vanished. To some extent, I understand how it feels. Whenever I would get a new game, I started a temporary gaming marathon. Beyond that, no extreme level of addiction is possible, because I simply get bored with most games after a couple of weeks at most.

However, it’s hard to control oneself when a mission has been completed successfully. It’s this feeling of success — this victory — that keeps people hooked. When you level up in a game, it gives the illusion of having accomplished something meaningful. Unfortunately, many people stop trying the same in reality. For some reason it’s so much more gratifying to receive a compliment from a stranger online.

One reader commented on my previous article that it helped him to overcome social fears. Indeed, online activities that involve interaction with another human being, even through means of a virtual character, can still be considered social behavior. It’s a rather limited world view to immediately belittle online personas as valueless. This shouldn’t be anyone’s concern, as long as a person doesn’t neglect real-life responsibilities. In a way, everyone pays the price according to how much time they have spent away from reality.

Like the man I mention in the first paragraph, the price can be high on an emotional and economical level. It’s one thing to lose one’s job, and a whole different matter to miss one’s sister’s funeral. This isn’t meant to be a judgment, but rather a solemn observation. Video games are just the tip of the iceberg, for sure. The Internet is the true web of danger if consumed without moderation, but this holds true to any addiction, not just World of Warcraft.

Hey, don’t look at me. I just wake up in the morning, grabbing my phone first, before I give my fiancee a kiss. That doesn’t sound right, does it?

CC licensed Flickr photo from a n i. Y.