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Last Updated: Friday, 21 July 2006, 16:20 GMT 17:20 UK
Addiction clinic opens for gamers
David Reid
By David Reid
Reporter, BBC Click

Games addicts receive treatment
The clinic tries to find replacement activities for addicts

Video games have become a funfair for the mind. Their worlds of shifting reality have an effect similar to drugs or alcohol, where you can forget about the humdrum and everyday.

But what if you want the ride to stop and you want to get off? Well, also like drugs and alcohol, it is not always that easy.

There is a problem with video games; some of us get hooked and the ride does not stop.

Smith and Jones is an addiction clinic in Amsterdam, set up by a man more qualified than most to talk about addiction.

Keith Bakker was himself a drug addict, but is now more used to treating hardcore cravings.

He has recently experienced a flood of enquiries from addicts to video games.

"The gaming was obviously an obsessive/compulsive pattern in their lives. There were also signals of loss of control, that they couldn't stop once they started.

"There were a lot of things in there where we thought, 'this looks dangerous'. Eventually we started treating them together with other addicts, with chemically dependent people, eating disorders, sex addicts. You know, they're all quite similar."

An addict's life

Tim is 21 years old and has just come blinking into the light after an addiction to video games that lasted nine years.

His daily routine once consisted of playing 18 to 19 hours a day: "I slept for three hours because I couldn't sleep. Because when I was playing all day when I wanted to go to sleep I saw all the pictures in my head. [It felt like] I was stepping in the real world [when] I was playing in the games.

If I had to go to the lavatory I'd pee in a bottle. I ate in my room the whole day, I had no social connection with people or with parents.

"And I would drive fast on the highway, I was shooting people, in the real world that is not possible. For me it was my life."

For Tim the next few months will be crucial. He won't be alone, however, but will be working on the team developing the programme for an intake of game addicts.

Smith and Jones is renting a property downtown and becoming the first clinic in the West to offer residential care for an addiction that was barely heard of a few years ago.

Experts in compulsive behaviour, like gambling or alcoholism, are still not exactly sure what they are dealing with when it comes to video games, and where they fit into the array of long recognised addictions.

"At this point, I do believe gambling is the one I would link it most closely to," said addiction counsellor Denis Aulde.

"There's a pay off in it for both people; for the gambler it's rush of hitting the big one, the big jackpot, the money, for the gamer maybe some of it has to do with identity, maybe some of it has to do with competition."

Competitive streak

"When I'm playing and I'm playing good then I get an adrenalin kick from it because I am fast on the game," explained Tim.

"I can take high scores. I want to go on the first place on the ranking list on the game. Everything you want the best in it."

I won't play these games. If I had children I wouldn't let them play either.
Keith Bakker, Smith and Jones

Some people doubt just how addictive video gaming can be. I recently spoke to a French doctor who told me about one of his patients: a man so addicted to gaming that his family sent him on a trip to South America to get him away from his console.

Once he arrived at his destination, he found an internet café at the airport. During his entire one week stay in South America, he did not even leave the terminal.

World of Warcraft, with some six million online subscribers, is one of the most popular multiplayer games, and it is easy to see how players become drawn into it.

Games are peopled by real players. They are mostly males who are more likely to respond to this online society's competitive hierarchy.

Some players concentrate with such intensity they are unable to break off playing even at the call of nature.

"If I had to go to the lavatory I'd pee in a bottle," said Tim.

"I ate in my room the whole day, I had no social connection with people or with parents."

Smith and Jones director Keith Bakker admits he is scared of video games: "I won't go on. I won't play these games. If I had children I wouldn't let them play either."

Addictions can wreck lives, and it seems there is a thin line between intense and vigorous play and compulsion.

How long before video games join the long list of other common addictions with their associated social and personal costs?

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