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06-10 Navigating the minefield of Minecraft addiction

Navigating the minefield of Minecraft addiction

Minecraft is a game that has grown exponentially in popularity since its development by self-taught Swedish computer programmer Markus Persson in 2009. Originally intended as a computer game, it is also available for use on smartphones, tablets and game consoles. Minecraft has over 100 million registered users and more than 42 million video tutorials and footage clips on YouTube. “Minecraft” has become the highest searched term on the video-streaming site, just behind “music,” and it is the third most popular Internet/video game of all time, ahead of Super Mario Bros.

As stated on the game’s website, “Minecraft is a game about breaking and placing blocks. At first, people built structures to protect against nocturnal monsters, but as the game grew, players worked together to create wonderful, imaginative things.” Players must collect blocks and build shelter or weapons to fend off the monsters and zombies that attack during the night. Unfortunately, the addictive nature of the game has led to Minecraft dominating people’s lives. Part of the reason this becomes a problem is because there is no concrete end to the game, there is no “final level” in which you “beat the boss,” as with other popular games. As one concerned parent noted, “Minecraft, as with all successfully addictive games, is endless.”

It is difficult for parents to determine when a child’s love of a seemingly innocent, simulated Lego-like game has become a full blown addiction. The turning point is when the individual’s use of the game begins to negatively affect his or her health and mood. Many concerned parents are finding their children addicted to Minecraft and unable to engage in other aspects of life essential for their development. Since the 1990s, there have been controversial studies on the effects of extensive video game usage on the brain. Scientists have long since warned that the parts of the brain responsible for behavior and emotion go underdeveloped in children who primarily play video games, since these games only stimulate the regions of the brain that control vision and movement.

South Korea boasts the fastest broadband internet in the world, which is proving to have unexpected consequences. Eight percent of the country’s population ages 9 to 39 struggles with gaming and/or Internet addiction, according to a 2010 study conducted by the government.

Researchers in South Korea have developed five signs of gaming addiction, which include:

  • Disrupted life pattern
  • Lost job or missed school due to gaming
  • Need for larger fix
  • Withdrawals
  • Cravings

These are signs very similar to substance abuse or other behavioral addictions. While gaming addiction is not currently in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the American Psychological Association (APA) has suggested that “Internet Use Disorder” be added.

YouTube videos relating to Minecraft include tutorials for playing the game, as well as simple screen views of footage documenting the actions of other players. These videos seem to feed the Minecraft addiction and pose more of a problem to some parents than the game itself. These parents feel that whatever creative and collaborative aspect of the game was present before is stripped away and their children are simply watching videos of other people having the already mediocre creative experience. This also feeds the addiction for those posting the videos and photos, getting praise and admiration from other users for their efforts. As one self-professed addict, Michael Blinkie, encouraged, “I urge you all to go to Google, search for ‘Minecraft,’ and click on images. Some of the things you see will make you proud to be a part of the human race.”

On-Line Gamers Anonymous (OLGA) was founded in 2002 as a response to the growing amount of children, teens and adults who found themselves addicted to online games, such as World of Warcraft. The OLGA site includes a section on withdrawal symptoms, which include feelings of emptiness, depression, “brain fog,” fantasies and dreams about the game, irritability, anxiety, fear and lack of motivation. The site also features a page for suicide prevention, noting that the aforementioned withdrawal symptoms can result in suicidal ideation. The page states, “No matter how far down you are, NOTHING is worth taking your own REAL life,” and includes resources for those struggling with suicidal thoughts.

It would be easy for parents to make their children stop playing Minecraft cold turkey or eliminate screen time altogether, but Bec Oakley, founder of MineMum, a blog to guide parents through their children’s obsessions with Minecraft, advises otherwise. She states, “It’s important for parents to help kids enjoy their love of Minecraft in health ways, to talk with them about things like how to be healthy gamers, how to identify when they need a break and to set rules for health game play with rewards for sticking to them.” The reality is that gaming addiction is like any other addiction and could be a potential indicator of underlying mental health issues.

If your child is struggling with a gaming addiction or other behavioral addiction, help is available. Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego is a facility that specializes in treating adolescents and teens struggling with mental health issues, substance abuse and dual diagnosis. Call 866-615-7266 to speak with a professional today.

Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer

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