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Published: Tuesday, 6/26/2007

Addicted to gaming?

FOR many parents whose only contact with video games may have been to occasionally play one of the early, basic products, if they played any games at all, the proposition that games can be addictive might be puzzling.

For others, who see firsthand how their children can become fixated on new, role-playing, multi-player games, the idea makes perfect sense.

Now a council of the American Medical Association is weighing in on the subject, proposing that video games can for some children be as addictive as heroin, and raising the prospect that video games be classified as a psychiatric disorder. That would enable sufferers to be covered by insurance for treatment.

A report prepared for the AMA's annual policy meeting urges the organization to lobby the American Psychiatric Association to include game-playing addiction in its diagnostic manual, the next edition of which is to be published in 2012.

Not surprisingly the gaming industry disagrees with the proposition. Interestingly, some mental health experts wonder if the proposal goes too far, and even those backing it say it needs more study. No doubt there will be considerable debate in both the medical and mental health fields as to whether a habit such as game-playing can become a full-fledged addiction, and if so, how can it be treated, and who pays.

One element of the debate is certain. Game-playing is almost ubiquitous among young Americans. The AMA cites data that claim as many as 90 percent of young people play video games and as many as 15 percent of those are addicted.

Some parents, such as Liz Woolley of Pennsylvania, don't need persuading of the deleterious effects of gaming. She blames online gaming for leading to her son's suicide, and has started a support group, On-Line Gamers Anonymous, for young people seeking assistance.

While we will leave it to the professionals to determine the merits of classifying gaming as an addiction, it's clear that only good can come from a debate on the issue.

Like other pastimes, gaming may be harmless fun for the majority of players, in much the same way as enjoying a cocktail is for the majority of those who drink. But what about those who are perhaps susceptible to addictive behavior? What if, like the alcoholic who can't refuse that next drink, some gamers can't log off from their role-playing?

For them, help should be available, and it shouldn't have to bankrupt families to get their kids help because there's no insurance coverage for what ails them.



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