Video gamers find support to overcome addiction

Hannah Bartman

Addiction usually conjures images of substance abuse consuming and transforming lives. Video game addiction has the same capacity as any substance, even at Whitman College.

Gaming is most commonly seen as a simple pastime, a game to be played casually in dorm rooms with friends. However, in some cases, according to Kimberly Young, PsyD, clinical director of the Center for On-Line Addiction, gaming can turn into “a clinical impulse control disorder.”

“The gamer in you believes in nothing but the game. In your mind, he is stronger, smarter and more capable than you in every way; the real you is weak and shameful. There is no easy way out. To win the fight, you have to silence every thought having to do with the game for weeks. You have to starve a part of your own mind into submission,” said first-year Lucas Wright.*

This issue is one that Director of Academic Resources Juli Dunn is attempting to bring to the public conscience. Beginning on Feb. 6, Dunn created Whitman’s first Healthy Gaming Support Group, which meets every Wednesday at 4:15 p.m. upstairs in the GAC.

“I’ve worked with students in the past whose gaming addictions or obsessions literally ended their academic careers at Whitman, so it is real and the consequences can be significant,” said Dunn in an email.

Currently, the group has three consistent members. One of these members is senior economics major Yifan Yang. Yang experienced that his gaming, most specifically his use of World of Warcraft, affected his schoolwork beginning last year. Yang moved to Walla Walla from China in 2007 and games with his 30 or so friends that still live in China.

“There are relationships within the game that I want to keep, but I have to find a balance between real life and gaming life and that can be hard,” said Yang. “Once you get too obsessed with the game and it consumes your time, that’s when things can go wrong.”

The group focuses on posing questions such as: “What is a healthy amount of gaming in terms of time? When does it cross the threshold into unhealthiness?” It is “a tight-knit group” that “really support[s] one another,” said Wright.

“I hope students that participate in this group come to know a larger world and community in real life and recognize that they have talents to contribute in person to the Whitman community in ways that are equally rewarding and lasting,” said Dunn.

Some members are constantly fighting with their addictions, and attempting to overcome them is an everyday struggle.

“I lied to my roommate and I lied to myself, saying I had it under control. I didn’t, and I still am a gaming addict,” said Wright.

Gaming can turn into a mental dependency just like any other addiction. Addiction is defined as any sort of habit that is formed and can be extremely painful to quit.

“I have an addictive personality. It’s predictable, really, with my family history of alcoholism and drug addiction,” said Wright. “I often struggle with self-control, which exacerbates my issues with gaming and self-discipline in general.”

The Healthy Gaming Support Group serves as an escape for members to discuss these issues with a group of peers that can sympathize with these difficulties. Discovering that there is a supportive community that understands the “benefits” of gaming, as Yang describes, can be very comforting.

“It’s good to know you’re not alone with these problems and that there are people on this campus that deal with the same issues,” said Yang.

These games take up a large portion of students’ lives, but for some, like Yang, they show unforeseen benefits. More specifically, there are aspects within the World of Warcraft world that have provided Yang with insights into his interactions in his real world.

In World of Warcraft, Yang has served as Guild Master, a high-ranking position that puts him in charge of 30 other characters in the game. Through this, Yang has learned to cooperate and collaborate with people to work towards a common goal.

“In real life, you learn your duty within your society or within your class or club. In the game I learned to be reliable and communicate with people so [that] we can all reach a common goal,” said Yang.

However, this unique type of communication can also pull one farther from real-life interactions, and it is this type of communication that Yang believes would help him control this addiction. Resisting the need to play the game is easier if more commitments are made outside of the game world.

“One thing is forcing myself to go out to social gatherings. Things that put my attention away from the game definitely help,” said Yang.

These things for Yang include dinner with friends, working at his job at the theatre, going to the Healthy Gaming Support Group and finding other creative outlets. One class that has significantly helped him is his Advanced Composition course, an offering in the English department. He creates stories every week that center around personal experiences. Thus far some of these stories include experiences that have significant cultural significance for Yang, such as stories about stereotypes of Asians and Chinese hot-pots.

The issue that the members of this club and those that struggle with this addiction deal with is not a problem indicative of video games in general.

“One of the very important thing for readers to understand would be that gaming itself is not bad; it’s the addiction that’s bad,” said Yang.

Gaming can provide many positive aspects for players, but overuse and abuse can lead to negative impacts in one’s life. The Healthy Gaming Support Group hopes to provide a haven for those who have acknowledged their gaming addiction. Through the catharsis of human communication, other forms of healthy dependency can be fostered, and this minority struggle can be solved.

*This student chose to remain anonymous.