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12 December 2016

Video Games Are More Addictive than Ever

The Next Level
Story by Caitlin Gibson, Photos by Mark Abramson, The Washington Post, 
7 December 2016

Video games are more addictive than ever. This is what happens when kids can’t turn them off.

It was nearing midnight when she slipped out of bed, padded across the wood floors and peered into the room across the hall. Her 15-year-old son was still awake, like she knew he would be, sitting in his bed, staring at his laptop screen. This had long been his nightly ritual: After hours spent playing video games — riveted by a world of guns and gore, adrenaline pumping — he would unwind by watching videos of other gamers playing.

Turn it off, she said.

I need to finish, he said.

No, she said.

Their voices got louder. She doesn’t remember exactly what made him reach for the glass on his bedside table. He threw it with such force that it spun across the room and shattered against his closet door, carving a two-inch gash in the white painted wood. Tiny shards glinted on the striped rug.

By then, the family’s stately home in New York was riddled with such scars — nicks in the walls, scratches in the floor, a divot in the marble countertop lining the kitchen sink. All remnants of the boy’s outbursts, which had intensified over the years, almost always triggered by a simple request from his parents: Byrne, please turn off the game. Please get off the computer.

When Byrne threw the glass, his mother, Robin, didn’t panic; she mostly felt numb. For five years, she and her husband, Terrence, had felt their son slipping away — descending deeper and deeper into a realm they didn’t like or understand, consumed by the virtual worlds shared by millions of strangers, all reachable through his Xbox and his computer. Robin and Terrence had conferred with therapists, medical experts and school counselors to try to help their son.

Just weeks before, they had turned to an education consultant, who helped them come up with a plan: Byrne had to go away — first, to a summerlong wilderness therapy program, where he could reconnect with himself and the real world around him, and then to a boarding school. He had to start over, in a place with strict structure, where he couldn’t spend his days immersed in video games.

His parents knew it was their last option. If this new plan couldn’t save their son, maybe nothing could.

Video games are nothing new, and neither are reports of game addiction. But today’s most popular games are wholly immersive: Vast digital landscapes unfold in eye-popping detail, nuanced characters evolve from one level to the next. These games are deliberately designed, with the help of psychology consultants, to make players want to keep playing, and they are available on every platform — gaming consoles, computers, smartphones.Today’s teens are more tethered to this technology than any previous generation; these so-called “digital natives” have been playing more sophisticated games at younger ages than their parents ever did.

The games have been criticized as an escape from human interaction, but some offer a different sort of social connection: MMOs — or massively multiplayer online games — allow gamers to play together from any place at any time, and many describe a powerful sense of attachment to those who share this virtual realm. Logging off is that much harder for kids who feel a very real bond to their online friends and teammates.

The result, experts say, is a steep rise in the number of parents worried that their kids are in fact addicted, or at least compulsively devoted, to the games. A residential facility called reSTART, the nation’s first therapeutic retreat devoted specifically to Internet addiction, launched a new adolescent program last month after receiving a barrage of calls from parents desperate to separate their children from video games, consoles, computers and smartphones. A small but growing number of psychologists across the United States have begun to specialize in treating children who struggle with compulsive gaming and screen use.

Continue reading:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/style/2016/12/07/video-games-are-more-addictive-than-ever-this-is-what-happens-when-kids-cant-turn-them-off/

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