HBO's "Love Child" Asks One of Gaming's Toughest Questions

Steve Anderson : End Game
Steve Anderson
The Video Store Guy
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HBO's "Love Child" Asks One of Gaming's Toughest Questions

The “just one more” phenomenon is widely known among gamers. Just one more boss fight, just one more round, just one more level, just one more game; it's a phenomenon almost as old as video gaming itself, and for the most part, it's innocent enough. Many gamers out there know what it's like to see a Saturday morning sunrise after playing a game all of Friday night. But is it possible to go to far? The recent documentary on HBO known as “Love Child” will go into greater depth on that question, and today, so to do we.

The story behind “Love Child” is familiar and horrible, perhaps all the more horrible for its familiarity. “Love Child” here refers to Sarang, a three month old girl whose name, oddly appropriately, means “love” in Korean. But Sarang died, according to reports, of malnutrition while she slept back in 2010. How does a three month old die of malnutrition in her sleep? Well, according to the reports, her parents were spending their nights in a cyber cafe playing an online game called “Prius Online.” In perhaps the cruelest irony of all, “Prius Online” featured a game in which players raise a virtual child.

This story isn't really all that new. We haven't heard it for the first time and it's a sadly safe bet that we haven't heard it for the last. But it is a story that has raised a disturbing concept: are video games addictive in nature? In a very real sense, the question itself is wrong. If video games were addictive, then anyone who played video games would become addicted to them. Thus, the question cannot be “are video games addictive in nature,” but rather “who is most likely to be addicted to video games”.

I'm no physiologist, nor am I a practicing psychologist or physician. So I'm working with other people's numbers here, and discovered that about one in three tobacco users will become addicted at some point. Meanwhile, just over 15 percent of alcohol users will do likewise, and oddly, 16.7 of cocaine users will fall into addiction as well, according to reported word from the National Addiction Center. Numbers on addiction rates for video games, meanwhile, are short on the ground at best, and seem to vary, but numbers under 10 percent seem to be fairly standard.

To call video games addictive, so far, seems to fall in about the same class of addiction as alcohol, if that. Alcoholics do exist, there's no doubt of that. But so too are there those who have a glass of wine with dinner. Are these addicts? We can all safely say that that's not the case. So too can we say likewise with video games, and on an even broader continuum. We've all known people who can't keep a job for all the video gaming, and we've known those who only game when waiting at a doctor's office of the like. We've known those who take a vacation day when a certain title comes out, and those who've been known to stay up until Saturday morning from a Friday night spent gaming. We've known someone who plays “Words with Friends” 10 minutes a day, and we've heard Sarang's parents in several cases.

While there's still quite a bit of study to be done here—if we can reach a conclusion in the next 30 years, I'd be astonished—there is some support to the idea that video games might be addictive. The thing about it is, though, that though video games may be addictive, they're likely to only be addictive to certain people with certain personalities. Much in the same way that two thirds of smokers don't get addicted, and 85 percent of alcohol drinkers don't either, a huge portion of the gaming public will likely never become addicted either. But for those who do, there needs to be the right kind of help. While video games are great fun, and make many of us happy with tales of adventure and fun for hours on end, there's the possibility of addiction, and it's a possibility that needs to be addressed before there's one more baby Sarang to discuss.