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NHS opens clinic to help child addicts of computer games (theguardian.com)
87 points by cmsefton 14 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 77 comments

It's really no wonder. Way too many games are straight up designed to create habits in the players.


Rewards and punishments are used to create schedules. They make player do the things the company wants them to do when they want them to do it. A simple example:

- playing every day rewards the player with bonus items

- taking a break punishes the player by making them weaker relative to other players

And of course there are those wonderful companies which reward players that spend money and punish those that don't.

WHO already recognizes the existence of a gaming disorder:


It's only a matter of time before this industry is regulated.

I'm glad I got out of playing games like that when I did. Having diablo 2 when I was young was bad enough. I wasted a good amount of my teenage years on that game. It pioneered a lot of those Skinner box mechanics that those pay to win, I can't even call them games, scams have refined to a tee and use heavily. I'm glad I never grew up with games like that everywhere. At least I see them for what they are these days, I'd hate to think how hooked I might have gotten on those things.

I am really struggling to ever put my phone down. I get stuck in a loop of checking email, then Facebook, then a series of news websites including hacker news. Then repeat all day.

Here are some things that can help:

- Put your phone in Do Not Disturb mode. On Android, that hides the notification icons for IMs, texts, calls, app notifications. Often, I turn on my phone screen to look something up and immediately get distracted by the notifications. Then I forget what I was originally going to look up.

- Remove your favourite sites "quick bookmark" icons on your browser's landing page. Often I mindlessly click those icons when I open the browser, even though I had a different purpose in mind when I opened it.

- Use the grayscale mode on your phone if you have it. It turns the entire display black and white, and makes app icons, images etc look less vibrant and less noticeable. It's a hack that makes me want to go on my phone less often, or just use it for the exact purpose I turned it on for.

Block the sites, delete the apps

Is there a hosts file for iOS 13?

You can use the adult content restriction feature to blacklist domains. This only works for content loaded in a browser that respects resource filtering, like safari, and won’t affect things like apps at all.

Or pihole! That’s the most effective.

As ridiculous as it sounds a serious benefit to me of owning a Mac is that it's utterly useless for gaming.

You'll be delighted to learn Catalina contains Apple Arcade (you can find it in the App Store). Yes, Catalina is the latest version of macOS, 10.15. Queue the "what would Steve think" memes.

As for the topic. "(Computer) addiction" is a symptom of a (myriad of) problem(s). It could be depression, it could be the person is bullied, it could be autism, it could be "just" puberty.

I dunno, from what I can tell browsing through steam there's more often Mac ports of a game but no Linux one and almost never the other way around, yet I find more than enough games than I have time for on steam that run on linux.

OpenBSD, now providing safety in a whole new way...

Purchasing boxes that have a chance of giving loot. Upgrading your gear in the game depends on chance.

It's just getting the players used to gambling and filtering out those who are resistant (they won't make money by going on a spending spree).

Ban virtual gambling.

Should lump socal media into this, too.

Perhaps. “The feed” certainly shares many of the same qualities of intentionally addictive games.

I love playing the NHL games with my brother who lives several hours away.

But dammit if that didn't describe them exactly.

Include timed content that occurs on specific schedules (bi-weekly, monthly, etc).

Will it be regulated, its profits are a reward for controlling a section of the population when their hormone levels make them hard to control? Do you not think the military and law enforcement like citizens staying still playing a game so they cant get into trouble? Of course, what future opportunities are lost because society took an easy option and kept them dummed down? Its like parents who don't like their kids being hyperactivity when consuming Sodium Benzoate in drinks and foods even though hyperactivating is a sign the kid is healthy and Sodium Benzoate (cinnamon) is a nootropic.

I used to think that I was addicted to video games when in high school I would get together with my friends and play Civilization all night long, every single day.

Nowadays I keep hearing about younger brothers and sisters who are literally unable to get off their computers, consoles, and devices. I do relate to them a lot, but I don't know if it's becoming more serious over time, or if we are more attentive to it.

I hope it's not the former; I made a lot of friends playing and making video games, but it's not a particularly productive pastime if you're only playing them. Of course, you can disagree, but I am personally a little regretful that I didn't end up picking up an instrument or spent more time on my drawing skills. My programming developed quite a lot during my teens, but I definitely could have toned it down and 'played outside.'

> I made a lot of friends playing and making video games, but it's not a particularly productive pastime if you're only playing them. Of course, you can disagree, but I am personally a little regretful that I didn't end up picking up an instrument or spent more time on my drawing skills.

Sounds like you had a very similar experience to me. I was addicted to MMORPGs from around age 14-18. Almost every moment of free time I had I was playing these games.

I realised when I got to university how much time and potential I had wasted and I was becoming more interested in entrepreneurship which helped shift my addiction to something a little more productive.

That said, I also regret spending most of my late teens and early twenties working on hopeless startup dreams fuelled by the delusionally over optimistic self-help books I was reading at the time.

After going through a bit of a crisis in my mid twenties I finally feel I've reached a good balance between, but arguably I've wasted many of my best years. Even productive addictions can be bad. You often hear professional sports stars and business people echo these feelings about not prioritising the important things in life: family, friends, etc.

Don't be so hard on yourself. Kudos for taking a chance. I know many successful people, but the happiest are those that found something they were passionate about and learned to excel at it, rather than chasing what they though would make them rich/famous. I've also seen many sacrifice relationships and experiences in their pursuit, such that I would never trade places with them.

Ask me on my deathbed what I regret the most and I will say: everything (in hindsight).

> play Civilization all night long, every single day [...] my programming developed quite a lot during my teens, but I definitely could have toned it down and 'played outside.'

This on the whole is extremely unlikely. First, if you developed programming skills, you was not playing civilization all the time. You was playing civilization some and coding some. Second, if you would really literally spent playing all night long and then went to school and then spent all night playing etc, you would be extremely sleep deprived and you would not learned much - not in school and not coding.

The distinction matter. The thing that distinguish addiction from playing a lot is consequences on rest of your life - school, work, relationships with family or friends or ability to find mate.

I knew people who were in latter category - failing in college, going to work sleep deprived to the point of being drag on team, divorcing. It is different then high schooler wasting time.

For me it was playing video games all day while writing scripts for those video games to play them better. I learned some real skills from video games. For example, I was leading huge teams size 48 in real time, part of an organization with 300 people at 15 years old.

Yeah, no kidding. I did a fair amount of sysadmin and webdev stuff for my guilds, but in retrospect the interpersonal stuff was probably more valuable.

Turns out that cajoling a geodistributed collection of high-strung egoists into cooperating over extended periods of time is a skill that's not only useful for games. Who'd have thunk.

Twenty years ago games companies didn't employ psychologists and economists to ensure their game currencies and loot boxes were suitably addictive.

You were addicted to Civ or old school Defender arcades because it was too much fun (for a while), not because they had a team exploiting every weak point. Somewhere along the line (f2p with premium currencies, maybe monthly subscriptions) it switched to cutting your fix with some heroin to ensure it's addictive enough.

To me that's qualitatively different, and in need of regulation.

I've heard it said:

Games used to be about making the computer do what the user wanted, now games are about making users do what the computer wants.

Rather, games used to be about packing in features players and the developers thought would be cool and fun, and then the game would be sold for a flat price. Now games are about extracting as much money as possible with a minimum of interesting game mechanics and a maximum of psychological tricks. It's not true of all modern games, but is definitely a growing trend.

What is the biological difference though? (genuine question)

It's all well and good rationally formulating a difference between fun and addictive, but if our monkey brains can't tell the difference, should we really be treating them differently?

From personal experience, it seems to me that "fun" results in good memories. You smile when looking back on "fun" memories.

When you look back on "addictive" behavior, you sense the passage of time and energy (and resources/money) and feel neutral (at best) about the behavior. The hard part is in the moment where you don't especially want to perform the addictive behavior, but it's too uncomfortable to do anything else.

I'm no psychologist, so I'm sure someone could express this better. I don't think the addiction to early games, whether Civ or Tempest that we called "addictive" was a real addiction. It was just fun. No more than anyone was addicted to cycling or football as a kid.

Loot boxes, with all the tricks of "almost" winning rolls, and currencies that intentionally distance you from actual money so you're not sure how much you're spending, or MMO's with the "Skinner box" grind. Those are pushing much more into real addictions exploiting people who know it's doing them no good. They're using the same addictive techniques as gambling, such as scratch cards that have 2 of 3 jackpot spaces when you scratch. They all cross the line into exploitative and need some level of regulation just like gambling. Particularly when it's pitched at minors.

That UK gambling regulation has been liberalised in the last 25 years, and there's been a huge growth of problems stemming from that is no surprise.

I was in a kind of similar situation. I perhaps wasn't "addicted" but I certainly messed about on computers a lot.

But was it a waste of time? I don't think so.

Granted there was a lot of brain-dead time spent in Duke Nukem 3D, Civilization, and other games, but that time triggered a general interest and curiosity in what is happening. That leap from just playing to wondering what is going on was invaluable IMHO, and you wouldn't have got it without some serious screentime.

First you start poking around inside the *.cfg files for Doom and DN3D, and the next thing you know it is a couple of years down the line and you're a late-teen sitting up late into the early morning fiddling around with laser-pointers and webcams naively trying to write machine vision algorithms from scratch, or using Wireshark to to try and reverse engineer the server browser in the initial release of Steam, or strapping crappy wireless 9V cameras (1) into water bottle rockets and trying to process the video coming back via also-crappy USB video capture devices (2) (...some personal anecdotes for you there).

Now fast forward a few more years and I've got a degree in computer science and a pretty well-paid job as a software engineer that means I don't really need to worry about money, and I still have some good headroom left in my career to grow still without too much effort.

Would I have got here if I had stopped messing about on the computer and instead diluted that learning time with trying to play the violin or piano? I doubt it - that spark of curiosity as a teenager started a life-long (I presume) interest and set me on a path for a well-paid and desirable career. I wouldn't change any of that time at all.

1 - You can still buy similar things I was just amazed to see: https://uk.banggood.com/Wireless-Mini-Surveillance-Camera-Mo...

2 - no-longer available apart from ebay it seems: https://www.ebay.co.uk/i/183280630638

Yes, I can relate! My first real reverse-engineering effort was hex-decoding font files for the Descent series. My first collaborate programming project was writing a cross-section editor for a guy writing an extrusion engine that could be used to create Descent levels. My first attempt at commercial software was a mission packaging program for the game. All that stuff was great cornerstones for the career that came afterwards.

The reason I got into programming was Runescape leaving stack traces on my Desktop circa 2010

I wonder if a career in software engineering is the difference between a functional computer addict and nonfuctional addict. It really gives a new perspective to the concept of developers jamming out in a hackathon for 24+ hours while sleeping under desks and trying to stay in a flow stats as long as possible

The main issue with games addiction is that at the end of the day/night/week you are poorer both socially and financially. The financial aspect is quite important and often makes the difference between a "devoted" worker/workaholic and a "junkie".

It’s actually that. I would even go so far as to say “functional addict” is a bit of an oxymoron. People compulsively repeat all kinds of different behaviours. Some of those have a lot of people willing to pay you (programming), others less so (gaming), and some none at all (intravenous drugs).

Can't help but agree. The health effects of computers are not really understood. We've been rushing to harness their power to great effect, but what is the cost of having a computer? I know some people in therapeutic sphere are terrified of technology, saying it replaces people. You only need to dip into some Baudrillard or philosophy in general to see arguments about the impact of computer use, and they basically mirror real life.

I don't know how much of that is the deep dark truth, but there needs to be some separation between the harnessing of computing power for political, social & economic progress and living a normal life.

Is there much difference between doing that and doing an ultra marathon or whatever?

I suppose the marathon is 'healthier', but it's the same basic drivers, pushed to a somewhat unhealthy degree.

> but it's not a particularly productive pastime

> picking up an instrument or spent more time on my drawing skills.

As a pastime, I am not sure I see the "productive" part of playing an instrument or drawing. For the instrument part in particular, while any piece has an interpretation part, does it warrant a "productive" label, more than paying a game a specific way ?

Drawing can have a commercial aspect, but then is it a pastime ? (we'd also then have to take pro gaming into account if we go into these length)

Making art is about as productive as it gets. It's also the only thing that we still appreciate many years after the original was created.

Playing a game is pure consumption, drawing or making music is pure production.

Art and music-playing are strangely fetishized. These activites are placed on a pedestal, I think, largely because they represent a vestige of aristocratic idleness.

I don't find anything intrinsically more valuable or praiseworthy in playing an instrument than in shooting freethrows.

The comparison I am trying to make is between consuming and producing acts. After all my years of playing video games; my point is that the opportunity costs are higher for playing video games than shooting freethrows.

I doubt that hearing "Claire de Lune" being played badly on the piano for the 500th time is more productive or appreciated than a huge game of Civilisation or insane run in some other game.

Creativity exists in different forms.

I don't think practicing piano or performing alone is a creative endeavour unless you are either adding to or mutating the piece you are playing, or are using your piano skills to compose new pieces. "Making" art, as another commentor put it, is the productive action, not studying to make art. The distinction is different for visual arts and music.

That would be composing music, which would match building games (or game artifacts for Minecraft or Mario Maker for instance)

We get into muddy territories, but playing games (electronic or not) is doing something within rules, that’s not so far from making sounds or pictures with given tools.

No matter how "productive" it is, working 16 hours every single day is even more "productive". By working I include any activity that solely exists to improve time spent working such as education.

I've failed classes playing music rather than studying. What's productive to one person is an enjoyable waste of time to another.

It's a bit of both mixed in with games companies explicitly using techniques in honed in gambling industry to keep kids attached to their product.

I've worked in videogames for 25 years and the industry is "oblivious" to the harm it is causing because it's very profitable. There has been little innovation in games for the last ten years compared to the innovation in the business model used by the industry which has seen rapid change to grab children attention for as long as possible.

On the contrary, there has been plenty of innovation around how to make games more addictive and profitable.

I think games like civilization and openTTD are addictive but there's something different about it that results in the "addiction" naturally ending.

These smartphone games are just so incredibly mindless in ways that those optimization games aren't. While you're not doing anything important you are actually doing things and solving problems.

At least in the 90s, trying to play PC games was a great way to figure out how computers worked and how to troubleshoot them when they went wrong.

Things are so much easier now... You don't have to touch an autoexec.bat, or deal with extended memory. The amount of system tweaking you have to do to get decent performance is minimal. And installing a game almost never borks your computer so badly you have to madly try to do an OS restore, trying to preserve everything and make it look like you hadn't broken the family computer...

In a parallel universe I'd like to know what these people would do with their lives if they did not become addicted to games.

I. E. What percent would lead normal lives, what amount would become addicted to something else like gambling, drugs, or television, and such.

What I am wondering is how much of this is due to games being at fault and how much of it is on the person + biological inclination to become easily addicted?

Yea, games do design tricks to get people to keep playing, but so do casinos and there is very little sympathy in society for people who are addicted to gambling.

Gaming addiction is still relatively new and needs more studying. The question I pose is, if someone was going to get addicted, would it be better for a person to be addicted to games, or would you prefer something else?

Perhaps amongst many, there is little sympathy for people addicted to gambling or indeed drugs, however the government still regulates these areas.

This is because government understands while there is obviously variation between people, the key drivers for these things are not innate, rather social. ie opportunity, environment.

This is highlighted by other addiction patterns - painkillers, tobacco, even caffeine - these are not limited to a small group of 'losers'.

Seems like a pretty dystopian outlook: "might as well be addicted to something less harmful than gambling/drugs/sex"?

If we could inhibit the exploitation of addictive characteristics for profit, that would be good.

(Cue slippery slope arguments!)

Targeting 13 to 25 year old's seems awfully young. Near all in my media addiction self help group are older, quite a few of them significantly.

Such help only works if the individual actually wants to change itself, and the realization for this to be necessary can require quite a bit of "damage" to occur. Especially if parents (inadvertently) enable the behavior. They themselves got to fight in that dispute as well, just sending your child to therapist tends to be a waste of time. Didn't work on the few anecdotes I've seen/heard. Didn't work on me when my parents tried long ago. Took embarrassingly long for me to finally seek help with the intent to change.

Btw, if anyone near Berlin (Ger) is willing to give a Dev with little professional experience and lots of blank space on the CV a chance, please shoot me a message.

> Btw, if anyone near Berlin (Ger) is willing to give a Dev with little professional experience and lots of blank space on the CV a chance, please shoot me a message.

Munich-based so can't help you directly, but look for the various marketing agency networks. They all have offices with openings in Berlin and have a constant need for new staff.

If your are solely data driven, without any higher vision ( eg creating enriching experiences ) then this is what you get ( and Coca Cola and high sugar and fat burgers and fake news ).

The question is - is it solely buyer/user beware or do the vendors have a duty of care? Note these games products are often aimed at children.

The opioids and tabacco lawsuits would suggest people expect companies to have have some duty of care.

In the gambling industry, governments tend to strongly regulate, and place duty of care rules on companies.

As data and machine learning leads to optimization of exploitation of human weaknesses for gain, what do we do?

There are already open source games - how would you manage that? make it illegal - imprison people?? ( like for drug use )?

This problem is at the heart of the question of freewill/or whether the strong should be allowed to ruthlessly exploit the weak.

>There are already open source games - how would you manage that? make it illegal - imprison people?? ( like for drug use )?

That is interesting, I've definitely gone through periods where I felt "addicted" to freeciv and openTTD. I wouldn't make them illegal though, they can be helpful tools for managing your mental state.

Not suggesting freeciv should be made illegal - just a thought experiment.

So if it was decided they are harmful - you could consider the drug analogy. Making with intent to supply is illegal or being involved in distribution - not actually sure about creation for own use.

It might sound like a silly idea - but some countries have actually banned video games. Malaysia banned arcade games about 20 years ago. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/957636.stm

My reaction to that is maybe the philosophy of making potentially harmful things like that illegal might be wrong.

Actually that's how the law typically treats things.

However it often takes a different view on profiting/promoting/supplying harmful things.

Back to the point about free will - versus whether people should be allowed to ruthlessly exploit others.

Quite often people are allowed to do stupid things to themselves ( free will ) , but other people are not allowed to exploit it.

Meanwhile, suicide and depression rises for children in the UK [1]. I would really rather the NHS prioritize the massive mental health crisis (affecting children and adults) instead of bad parenting.

There are ratings on the games for a reason. Also, there are already laws regarding children and gambling, they simply have to enforce them.

[1] https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families...

Maybe bad parenting results in a massive (mental) health crisis?

Maybe, but the solution for stopping young children getting addicted to gaming is simple - stop giving kids gambling games, monitor any online play and teach them to play games for healthy amounts of time.

I personally can't point to a single thing a parent can do in order to greatly reduce the mental health crisis and I'm not sure it's yet well understood. What is clear though is that behaviours that lead to suicide (e.g. depression) are spot-able and treatable to some extent.

This is probably unpopular but I can't help but feel the X addiction framing is reminiscent of drapetomania. No freaking shit that kids would prefer games to schoolwork and chores. I am sure many of us have fathers or grandfathers who would rather fish than work.

Narcistic bad psychology based upon what they want and expect from others as the standard of health instead of trying to understand motivations and incentives. That has been a reoccurring theme with later discredited bad psychology like treating homosexuality as a mental illness to be cured, or infamous uses of institutionalization of "troublesome" people. It betrays an ironically terrible theory of mind.

Now there certainly are uses as unhealthy coping mechanisms and executive dysfunction but addiction loses meaning when abused to apply to literally every source of pleasure.

The pathological cases would be better referred to as compulsive behavior instead of addiction - a subtle but very important distinction.

Addiction has earned a medical definition in recent decades, and it focuses on the psychological feeling of craving and the persistent compulsive behavior. Thus, under the modern definition of addiction, yes you can experience craving for all kinds of non-substance things, beyond tolerance. (And, obviously, Substance Tolerance as a separate thing has also received a rigorous medical definition, but that came earlier than addiction.)

Of course I'd prefer to play games rather than do chores. And as a father I'm concerned that my son is spending too much time on the iPad playing minecraft. Is he an addict? Should there be intervention? He does seem to experience craving. Could it be a persistent compulsive behavior? For now he's able to put down the iPad and do the homework we all know needs to be done, so no, I don't view that as addiction and I don't think it fits the definition. But if it becomes an overriding compulsion to the exclusion of most other behaviors, then absolutely we should call that addiction and treat it like addiction.

"Big Tech" knows this quite well I think and we all should know that our A/B testing that's focused on user engagement is, in fact, curating addictive behavior.

This is why the NHS is permanently underfunded... because it is always called on to do additional things but it can never ditch any existing obligations. Any serious discussion of funding must start with stopping taking on more until the existing functions are budgeted for, then we can talk about extras.

Tobacco was taxed to cover the cost of healthcare associated with it, so games and social media should be taxed the same way.

In this case, these kids were likely seeing psychs anyway - maybe even the same psychs. Setting up a clinic basically amounts to setting aside an amount of time in the month for a doctor to take existing caseload on from the existing system and hiring a receptionist.

The problem is that highly specialised clinics breed power imbalances - you don’t usually have another option for where to go because other doctors refuse to touch the subject matter now that there’s a specialised clinic for it, so getting treatment involves conforming to whatever the clinic doctor demands of you, no matter how undignified or inhumane.

I used to think this was really far fetched but there's a whole subreddit dedicated to folks affected by this. People constantly post on there about how they become so obsessed with climbing a multiplayer ladder or getting achievements/trophies that they miss class, bail on social functions, skip work, etc.

Addiction is a need for connection that isn't fulfilled. Need peace of mind? Play some ego shooter. Can't get hugged? Use drugs. Looking for appreciation? Go for Facebook Instagram Twitter etc. I'm addicted to gaming. Having a keyboard under my fingers gives me a high. Why? Well people don't know loyalty. Authorities have been abusive. We're told our world is dieing and still politics is unwilling to change anything (feels like it at least). Nothing meaningful to do for a kid. Except maybe go protest for a better future. And even greta seems to be a tool. Which is pretty cynical.

I'm grateful I was finally able to kick my gaming addiction. Better late than never, but I feel like I wasted too much of my 20s and now I'm already 30. I used to convince myself that it was fine as long as I was having fun. In hindsight I can finally see how much of a colossal waste of time it was. There is definitely some healthy level of gaming that can be done. However, when your priorities put gaming at the top and everything you do is in order to get back to gaming you should understand that it is a problem.

Games or not, when you're relatively young you'll waste time by the standards of your elders. At least it's not drugs or criminal gangs.

Youth is wasted on the young.

MM this new "gaming disorder" that's been invented and pushed by certain countries.

You could make the same argument about hardcore soccer fans.

Its also common for domestic abuse to happen after the abusers team loses.

I don't disagree that people can be unhealthily addicted to sports. Those people probably should seek help too.

Would much rather have a clinic for Social Media mental diseases.

You're in luck - this is for gaming and social media.

Do the parents bare any responsibility?

Great, hopefully one will open for people addicted to the web too.

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