For Online Addicts, Relationships
Float Between Real, Virtual
(CNN) -- Think of online video game addiction and
what probably comes to mind is a socially awkward
adolescent. But teens are not the only ones who get
A young man is treated for Internet addiction in
Beijing, at China's first government-approved Web
Consider Zach Elliott, who lives in the U.S. state of
Wisconsin, is in his mid-40s, and plays Final
Fantasy XI, an online role-playing game. About
three years ago, he says, "there were people in my
real life that sort of vanished into this game, and I
followed them into it."
Now he spends three hours a day playing the game
on a computer in his basement. "I could have never
anticipated the sort of draw the game has had for
me, and how involved I would get," he says. "It still
Relationships formed within the game are a key
part of that draw. While parts of the game require
intense focus, less hectic periods allow him to text-
chat with other players from around the world
about politics, religion and other topics. Some
friendships form, as do some animosities.
He uses a blacklist feature to block out anyone who
gets on his nerves too much. "It's something I wish I
had in real life," he says. "There are people in this
game who irritate me unbelievably."
On the other hand, some of the better relationships
have crossed over into real life, or "RL." Chief
among them is a couple in Canada with whom he
exchanges Christmas presents, though he's never
met them face to face.
But what about the other relationships in his life?
It's a question increasingly being addressed by
therapists who focus on online gaming addiction.
"We are seeing more and more adults and
adolescents struggling with real world relationships
because of virtual world relationships they have
created," says Eric Zehr, vice president of addiction
and behavioral services at the Illinois Institute for
Addiction Recovery at Proctor Hospital. Members of
his team have consulted therapists in South Korea,
where "boot camps" have been set up to break
online gaming addictions.
Elliott is a stay-at-home father with kids in school
and a successful spouse generating income. That
leaves him with enough spare time for not only
Final Fantasy, but other activities as well, like
participating in a local writing club that meets
regularly at a café.
Other gamers live more precariously. Libby Smith, a
trainer at the institute, is helping a World of
Warcraft addict in his mid-20s who's dropped out of
college, lost numerous jobs, lost his girlfriend, and
is on the verge of homelessness. "He maintains he
has no problem," says Smith. His family finally
intervened and brought him to the institute.
According to Smith, compulsive gaming may be
masking other underlying problems such as anxiety,
depression or low self-esteem.
One of the symptoms of pathological gaming, says
Smith, is an inability or unwillingness to examine
one's behavior openly and honestly.
"It is important to remember this addiction is real,
and as such, it has become the single most
important relationship -- bar none -- in this
person's life. As such, the addiction will resist any
attempts to control it."
She suggests family or friends communicate their
concerns with specific examples, rather than say
things like "You spend all your time on the
computer," which is likely to increase defensiveness.
Words like "always" and "never" should be avoided.
Assuming the gamer doesn't live alone, she also
suggests that the computer be placed in a
centralized location within the home. That way it's
harder to stay isolated, play the game in secret or
hide their ongoing struggle.
"Regaining control over one's life means learning
new skills and a new way of existing in this
technologically based society," Smith says. "It is not
easy, it is not quick, but it is possible."
For Elliott, an occasional reminder of how absorbed
he is in the game comes when his Internet service is
disrupted. "I get pretty upset," he says. Were he to
be permanently cut off from the game, "I think I
would feel that very acutely."
At the same time, though, he knows that the game
has to end eventually.
"It's funny because when I think of not playing
anymore ... I think about it as almost kind of a
death," he says. "I know that sounds very dramatic,
but I mean it is a sort of a life, and so it is a sort of
a death to have it end."
1. What kind of addiction is being referred to in
2. According to the article, what symbolizes this
3. Who is Zach Elliot? What’s his predicament?
4. How are relationships made online?
5. Give one situation in the article which proves
good online relationships can cross over
6. Who is Eric Zehr? What expert findings did
7. Cite one incident from the article about the
bad effects of online addiction.
8. Explain the last paragraph.
Express Your Thoughts:
1. Why do use the computer?
2. Is online addiction a problem in your
country? If so, how is your government
dealing with it?
3. If your son/daughter/nephew/niece wanted
to be a pro gamer, would you encourage
him/her? Explain your point.
4. In your opinion, why are people, especially
kids, addicted online?
5. There are many forms of addiction. What are
you addicted to?
6. How do you control it?