- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 26, 2005

A neglected baby cries alone. Crazed by lack of sleep, a young boy threatens suicide. A

marriage crumbles over a lone obsession.

Yet another grim tale of 21st-century social breakdown? No, these are the victims of America’s newest social scourge … video-game addiction.

As Sony and Microsoft ready new-generation weapons, the PlayStation 3 and Xbox consoles, for a pitched battle next year, hundreds of thousands of children and young adults are struggling to contain their obsession with older machines.

Psychologists and psychiatrists estimate that even before the new wave of gaming consoles hits the stores, one in eight players already suffers from some kind of video-game dependency.

There are few long-term scientific studies on video-game addiction.

But the reach of the video-game obsession is borne out by the popularity of one online game “Halo 2.” By early 2005, 1 million players had clocked nearly 100 million hours on the game, according to industry figures.

Gamers who take their obsession too far show symptoms similar to alcohol or drug addicts, says psychologist David Walsh, founder of the National Institute on Media and the Family in Minneapolis.

“Online games are the most addictive because of the tremendous peer pressure not to stop,” Mr. Walsh said.

“Very often, the rest of the group will threaten to kick you out of the team,” he said, nominating the fantasy-role video game EverQuest, as one of the most addictive releases.

Mr. Walsh says a minority of gamers exhibit extreme symptoms. “A young woman admitted she neglects her baby. She lets her baby cry in the next room for hours. She told me how guilty she felt,” he said.

“A young woman divorced her husband because all he would do would be playing games. A man lost two jobs because of video games.”

Mr. Walsh said children’s lives can be overtaken by gaming, some of them putting in a horrifying 70 hours a week. One 12-year-old boy played all night until falling asleep at 4 a.m. or 5 a.m.

“The mother said he threatens to kill her, or himself, if the parents make him stop,” he said. “The psychiatrist told the mom not to make him stop.”

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