To the Editor:
In “Video Games Aren’t Addictive” (Sunday Review, April 2), Christopher J. Ferguson and Patrick Markey point to a large study about internet gaming to conclude prematurely that video games are not addictive but a “normal behavior” that for some may be a “waste of time.”
In clinical practice, there are some patients whose gaming activities profoundly interfere with the work and social demands of living. For some, it manifests as part of a severe depression, social anxiety or incipient psychosis — that is, it is symptomatic of another primary psychiatric diagnosis.
For others, it appears to be consistent with a pattern of addictive behavior. It seldom surfaces as a complaint by the individual. Given that tens of millions of people engage in gaming, one would not expect this behavior to be pathological for the majority who engage in it.
Time will tell whether or not it makes sense to make gaming addiction a formal psychiatric diagnosis or to refine the diagnostic criteria so that they are more sensitive in revealing pathology. It will also take more time to discern if there are adverse developmental consequences for young people whose game-playing is increasingly in the virtual world.
While the research the writers report is reassuring, it is premature to make a definitive clinical judgment about the health effects of gaming.
LARRY S. SANDBERG, NEW YORK
The writer is a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical Center and a psychoanalyst.
So a few days ago, with shame I told my girlfriend (who lost a previous boyfriend to video games) that I was going to see if I could handle a strict regimen of 90 minutes a day. She sat silently for a moment. And then she said, “If you fall in, I will drag you out, whether you kick or scream.”
Despite continuing skepticism, people with this addiction suffer, and games continue to be sold with minimal regulation. Yet my symptoms and those of others have been just as bad as the symptoms of substance abusers: withdrawal tremors, cravings, relationship problems and can’t-get-out-of-bed depression.
Last month, my primary doctor said with a smirk and a touch of ridicule: “You were my first patient to say he had a video game addiction. Video games?”