Steve Borlaki admits he was an addict.
When his first child was born, his addiction to online gaming stood in the way of spending time with his family, isolated him from his wife and affected his attitudes in the real world.
“I was married with a young child and I would spend hours and hours playing World of Warcraft, leading ‘raids’ with my clan – people I had never met except for online, but people who at times, I felt more obligated to than my own family. I would miss family meals and entire evenings just to go on another raid,” Borlaki said.
And, according to local psychologists and counsellors, Borlaki’s experience is far from unique. Craig Maguire, a West Shore mental health specialist, said he sees a multitude of clients whose marriages are breaking up as a result of one spouse becoming addicted to the Internet.
“It’s really mind blowing how easily people can become caught up in this addiction. But we have to realize that these people didn’t just wake up one day and decide that they were going to spend all their time online playing games. It’s not the games that are the problem, really. There is usually something else going on that fuels the need to escape to an alternate reality.”
Leanna Madill works with video game addicts in her practice in Langford and agreed with Maguire’s assessment.
“It’s important to learn what is happening with the person. We want to blame the games but the addiction to anything is an indicator that the addiction is providing the person with something that they are missing in their lives that they can find in a fantasy world,” Madill said.
“It might be a lack of social connection, or success at school or professionally, or something lacking in a relationship. People can fill those holes in a fantasy world, but when they log off there is a depression as reality reasserts itself and drives the person back into the computer world where they can get that sense of success and connection.”
It’s a cycle that made international headlines recently when the World Health Organization (WHO) included “gaming disorder” in a draft of its upcoming 11th International Classification of Diseases, a book used by researchers and doctors to track and diagnose disease. It makes reference to impaired control over gaming activities “to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities.”
“Video games gave me a temporary reprieve into a fictional world, a lot like books or television. But the difference with video games is they’re built on a model that plays to our sense of accomplishment. You’re on a treadmill, though, always chasing a carrot on a stick and, if you have an addictive personality at all, it can be very dangerous. It was for me,” Borlaki said.
“In the end, I gave it up, but it wasn’t easy.”
And the solution to the problem may not be as simple as turning off the computer. Maguire maintained that simply telling someone to stop the behaviour is as likely to work as telling a smoker to stop buying cigarettes or a heroin addict to stop taking drugs.
“You have to remember that people are using this activity to deal with something else in their lives. Unless you get at the root of the problem, the chances are that the behaviour will continue, although the person may lie about how much they play or hide the fact that they are going online,” he said.
The answer may involve counselling or other intervention.
“You have to remember that just taking away the computer may only result in the person seeking that escape from other, possibly more destructive, escapes from reality.”