Whenever a major title like Halo 2 or Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter comes out, workplace productivity finds itself ravaged by the so-called "gaming flu." Expansive games with dozens of hours of content, such as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, often provoke compulsive seclusion among those trying to finish them. Then there's massively multiplayer games like World of Warcraft that never end, prompting players to indulge in near-daily fixes.
While most gamers can handle their habit, apparently some can't. That's where Smith & Jones Addiction Consultancy comes in. The Amsterdam-based center, which specializes in drug and gambling addictions, is opening up a new ward dedicated solely to the treatment of gamers who simply can't stop playing.
"There were 15-year-olds being brought to us who were showing the same behavior as 50-year-old gambling addicts," Keith Bakker, director of the consultancy, told the BBC. Bakker said the majority of game addicts fit the same profile--socially isolated adolescent males who "want to escape reality."
"We knew about drugs like crack, but we couldn't find a program anywhere for kids like this, and we saw enormous parallels between problems with gaming and alcohol and gambling," said Bakker. Though the clinic already treats game addicts on an outpatient basis, the new Smith & Jones program will consist of an in-patient stay of four to eight weeks to help patients cope with game withdrawal. "There can be anxiety, panic attacks, sleep problems, dreaming about games, nightmares, shaking," said Bakker.
As for the issue of problem gamers relapsing, Bakker said that remains a difficult problem to prevent. "You can't do a urine test to see that they're not still gaming," he said. "If a coke addict said they wanted to go out to a club or to see people, we'd be worried about whether they'd meet a dealer. But if a gamer said he wanted to go out for the night and meet people we'd throw a party."