Video game addiction: A new diagnosis?

Video game addiction: A new diagnosis? by Lindsey Tanner

Video game addiction as the latest psychiatric disorder? That’s what the American Medical Association is debating this week, with a vote as early as next week.

Video game makers scoff at the notion that their products can cause a psychiatric disorder.

And tobacco makers scoff at the notion that cigarettes are addictive and/or cause cancer. No information in this statement, pro or con.

Even some mental health experts say labeling the habit a formal addiction is going too far.

There’s slightly more information in this statement. “There exists a set E of mental health experts such that two or more elements of set E assert that calling a ‘habit’ a ‘formal addiction” is ‘going too far.'” It still isn’t really saying much, other than “there is debate.”

But there certainly is a debate when you begin to try and identify the point at which any habit becomes an addiction.

Joyce Protopapas of Frisco, Texas, said her 17-year-old son, Michael, was a video addict. Over nearly two years, video and Internet games transformed him from an outgoing, academically gifted teen into a reclusive manipulator who flunked two 10th grade classes and spent several hours day and night playing a popular online video game called World of Warcraft.

Read the rest of the behaviors that her son descended into, and ask yourself if it sounds addictive or simply “a habit.” Brushing my teeth twice a day is a habit. Threatening your parents with physical violence when they try to pull the plug to the Internet seems a bit more extreme.

Dr. Michael Brody, head of a TV and media committee at the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry … praised the AMA council for bringing attention to the problem, but said excessive video-game playing could be a symptom for other things, such as depression or social anxieties that already have their own diagnoses.

It is tough to separate these things out, and there certainly is a complex interplay of factors when someone tosses their life out the window for any reason. Clearly many drug and alcohol addicts are predisposed to those addictions due to other conditions, such as depression or social anxieties. And yet we don’t suggest that a meth addict isn’t actually addicted to meth because they were already depressed before they used for the first time.

For my money, I’m absolutely convinced that there is a point at which certain individuals can become as addicted to gaming (especially online gaming) as someone can be to pornography or drugs. It can become so consuming that they can’t let go of it, and they may sacrifice significant successes in their real life in exchange for imaginary successes in a virtual world.

I won’t suggest for a minute that the simple act of playing online too much constitutes addiction. But i do believe that there exists a threshold beyond which the behavior clearly becomes an addiction.

What do you think?

The blogging nightmare of the apocalypse

If only Dante were here to help document this….

I get back from Hawaii, throw down my last two posts in a jet-lag induced afternoon binge, do a little sleeping in, work from home on Friday, enjoy the weekend, roll back to the office on Monday the 16th to find… two urgent voice mails from adminstrative folks in the CS department alerting me that my blog site has been compromised. OK, what does that mean exactly?

Well, first of all it means we’re unbelievably stupid (by “we” I mean first and foremost me, and secondarily everyone in my lab that had anything to do with helping to set up the blog site that you see before you). Well, okay, so we’re not so much stupid as naive to yet another in a ridiculously long list of Internet abuses available for heapage upon innocent netizens like us. Excuse us for acting like this is a safe neighborhood.

What happened was we got up close and personal with splog. Here’s the approximate play-by-play.

The first big problem was that we had installed the multi-user version of WordPress. Why did we do that? I teach a class called Computers and Society, and I have students deliver their thoughts and reactions as short posts on actual blogs in the actual blogosphere. It’s an interesting experience for students to submit their homework to the world where the instructor and TA are two of a potentially larger number of random readers (including the entire class). Strangely it tends to generate higher quality work.

We’ve tried different approaches in the past, but this Fall I was determined that we should host blogs on our server for any students that didn’t already have one, and that we would make the process for them to set up a blog very easy (courtesy of multi-user WordPress). What we failed to grasp was that this was very much like going into a really bad neighborhood, leaving your front door wide open, the keys in the ignition of your car, and a sign on the front lawn reading, “FOOD IN THE FRIDGE!”

What happened next was that someone received an email from a stranger in the blogosphere suggesting that maybe our site had been compromised. Painfully obvious after the fact what had happened. Splog bots had stumbled on my blog, saw that WordPress was powering our world, checked to see if there was an easy way for a stranger to just launch a blog here. Sure enough. Paycheck loans? No problem, we’ll host that blog. Viagra? We’ll take two. Other… um… stuff… Sure why not?

By the time we became aware that things had become extremely dumb, we were hosting more than 300 blogs on our server on every topic imagineable (or unimaginable, as the case may be). We thought there were protections on automatic creation of blogs, like admin approvals, or at least email notifications, but nobody had seen any notification. The system hadn’t alerted us and we hadn’t noticed.

The next steps were pretty obvious. Take down the server to be sure it wasn’t compromised. Then bring it up except for Apache while we figure out just how big the problem was on the blog front and explore possible solutions. Ultimately we migrated the blog over to a single-user version of WordPress, gutted all the skanky content living on our server, and brought Apache (and the blog) back up.

The next realization was really shocking. In an attempt to determine the broader damage, I did a search for our server domain and found 84,000 Google hits (and for the most part they weren’t pretty)! Ordinarily Google power rankings are a desirable thing. But when the good names of your server, your department, and your university are being dragged through 84,000 mud puddles, it’s a really really bad thing. (As an interesting side note, MSN only had around 400 hits for the same domain, and Yahoo! had only 18! Not sure what that implies about the relative effectiveness of the search engines.)

We made a request of Google that the contents of our server domain be purged from their cache, which they quickly responded to. Apparently it’s a common enough request that they have an automated system for doing it. That dropped the directly hosted garbage from Google’s cache, but it didn’t do anything for every other splog or spammed blog on the planet that pointed to our server with a promise of replica watches or worse. After a week, those links have begun to weed out, and we’re now down to around 69,000 Google hits for our domain. Er, our former domain.

Because of our sense of the damage to the reputation of our server’s name (not to mention the unfortunate association of numerous inappropriate topics to our university domain name) we changed the server name to sequoia (after the new software engineering lab name). That doesn’t help the fact that there are still thousands of sites indirectly associating BYU with all this garbage, but we didn’t want live searches for my blog to turn up the garbage still in the cache.

We’ve since been fighting redirection to try and get traffic to the right places when people look for this blog. Some of it works right, some still doesn’t. You may see in the URL, or you may see okoboji still. We’ll sort it out eventually.

Meanwhile, my next move is probably to grab an entirely new domain (yet to be determined) and move the blog there for permanent safe keeping with a well-secured single-user version of WordPress, and a fresh reputation.

As President Bush said… “Fool me once… Shame on… shame on you. Fool me… can’t get fooled again.”

Court strikes down Internet porn law

Court strikes down Internet porn law

I understand that issues involving free “speech” and the rights of adults are very complex, as is the interaction between government and the personal moral agency of its citizens. But as a parent I feel the current statutes and judicial decisions are sacrificing the moral lives of our children on the altar of adult choice.

In the ruling, the judge said parents can protect their children through software filters and other less restrictive means that do not limit the rights of others to free speech.

The Internet society in which we live is like a neighborhood in which strangers routinely walk into your house, inject drugs into your children, and then offer them more for free without your consent. I think we have to acknowledge the tremendously addictive nature of pornography, the deep impact of Internet porn addiction during the formative years of child development, and the overwhelming level at which our children are being exposed. We then need to begin imposing responsibility on those producing and distributing this drug.

Yes, as parents we should be doing everything in our power to protect our children. But the idea that it’s us who carry the burden of spending time and money to protect our families from perpetual moral onslaught, rather than the dealers being responsible for providing this material to our children? Sheesh.

“It is not reasonable for the government to expect all parents to shoulder the burden to cut off every possible source of adult content for their children, rather than the government’s addressing the problem at its source,” a government attorney, Peter D. Keisler, argued in a post-trial brief.

Amen, Mr. Keisler!

Technology experts said parents now have more serious concerns than Web sites with pornography. For instance, the threat of online predators has caused worries among parents whose children use social-networking sites such as News Corp.’s MySpace.

Follow this argument with me. X is bad. But Y is even worse than X!! Hence, don’t worry about X. Huh?! It doesn’t make sense. Why are Internet predators so pervasive and problematic in our digital society? Think it through… Because they are without fail already addicted to Internet pornography (typically, but not exclusively, child porn). They are acting out something they’ve fantasized about and visualized repeatedly online already. You want to eliminate Internet predators? Eliminate Internet pornography. The source is essentially the same. Pornographic material is addictive, the behaviors it induces in its addicts are base and degrading, and the social consequences are devastating to the addicts, their families, their children, and every other innocent victim involved.