Field of Science

World of Warcraft Addiction

A new disease has arrived, and it is transmitted through cyberspace. The symptoms include lethargy, gain in weight, withdrawal from social interractions and the chronic pursuit of EXP. This is known as World of Warcraft addiction.
This had hit the news in 2005 , because a child in korea was reported dead after being neglected by their parents, who were suffering from world of warcraft addiction.
There are countless other stories of addiction to world of warcraft, which can be found here.
These stories make interesting (and in some cases disturbing) reading. I recommend you take a look through it before you read on.

When looking at this problem , we must consider four things [2]:
  1. What is addiction?
  2. Does video game addiction exist?
  3. If so, what are video game players addicted to?
  4. Should we be frightened ?

So what is addiction?

Actually classifying addiction itself is a difficult thing. It is classified as "a recurring compulsion by an individual to engage in some specific activity, despite harmful consequences to the individual's health, mental state or social life"

If you looked at the various stories about WoW addiction, this seems to be covered in it. However, as with all things, one glib quote doesn't quite tell the whole story.
For example, let's take a look at alcoholism. When a person turns into a true alcoholic, their body becomes dependant on alcohol. . An alcoholics brain has changed the way it works to adapt to the psychological properties caused by alcohol. So when it is removed, they get "delirium tremens" a horrible syndrome that results from severe autonomic instability, and resulting in insomnia, fever, paranoia and even hallucinations.
This is a form of "Primary Addiction", where the addiction comes from the chemical itself.
 However, imagine instead that you get a person who drinks alcohol regularly. They may be under an unusual amount of stress from either work or home life. They are not at the stage of physiological dependence, but they drink regularly enough for it to be worrying. But let's say all their problems disappear, the stress of work is alleviated, or they get a divorce. suddenly, they don't need to drink so much any-more.  This is "Secondary Addiction", which primarily occurs from the displacement of stress.
 In the case of Alcoholism, it can start out as a secondary addiction, and become a secondary addiction later, but some drugs can cause a dependence far more quickly.

Can you get Addicted to World Of Warcraft?

This is where things get difficult. Within the scientific community, there is some controversy as to whether video games can be classified as addictive substances.
One problem with this is that for video games, none of the traditional clinical criteria seem to apply. There is no chemical involved (as with substance abuse) and there is no monetary involvement (as with gambling) so it would be hard for someone to be diagnosed with video game abuse [1]. 
Some investigations have been carried out at Nottingham Trent University's International Gaming Research unit, but the studies have not found much evidence to show that gaming is actually addictive in itself. 
Most of the people who have been reported as suffering from video game addiction have shown other underlying problems as well. A common one was having problems with social interractions, problems at home, problems with bullying. These problems can manifest themselves as video game addiction. It has been suggested that this should be treated as a "Secondary Addiction" problem. The Video games themselves aren't causative of the social problems, but are symptomatic, and end up increasing the problem.
Another factor which has been proposed as a factor here is that video addiction may simply be a time-management problem[1]. Simply, people cannot effectively manage their time properly, and end up committing too much time to video games than they intended. World of Warcraft suffers from this a lot because a person must maintain social contacts in this universe as well, and so more time is required. However, this time management idea can apply to vast other types of media, such as facebook, myspace...and hell, even me writing this blog. 

So What Are the Video Gamers Actually Addicted To ?

One of the key reasons as to why you can't quantify video game addiction is that no-one is sure exactly what people are addicted to. When dealing with chemical addictions, it's relatively easy to single out the pathways which cause the addictive behaviour. 
But when you're dealing with games, it's not so easy. 
Studies generally believe that the gratification obtained in games can be described by two theories:

Flow Theory: This is a mental state of operation in which a person is completely immersed in hat they are doing (like I am while writing this). There are clear goals (such as killing a dragon, or reaching the end of this article). there is also a distorted sense of time (hey, it was 4 'o' clock when I started writing this !). There is a balance of ability level and challenge (If the game was too hard, no one would want to play). Also there is a sense of personal control over the challenge (In world of warcraft, i decide what adventure I want to do). With this, the player gets completely immersed in the gaming experience, and singularly concentrated on the goals set in the game.

Gratification Theory: This is the idea that people enter the game world in the first place for specific purposes, and that people themselves are not helpless victims to World of Warcraft. People Use it to get specific gratifications. i.e. Escapism (Escaping to a whole new world), Personal Relationships (Can be easier online than in real life) , Personal identity (the ability to change it).
These two theories are the Hook and the Bait. You enter into World of Warcraft due to gratification theory (The Bait) and you get immersed in the game through Flow theory (The Hook). 
Gratification theory can explain why certain types of people (those who have trouble forming social connections, those with a troubled family life... etc) are more likely to fall prey to video game addiction. Flow theory explains how the priorites of these people can become so distorted that the outside world no longer becomes relevant. This can explain why people stop feeding their children, fall out of relationships and experience mounting debt.

Should we be frightened ?

Well yes and no. We need to be aware of this, but we shouldn't smash up all computers and ban the internet to protect your precious artefact child. The thing is, there is a difference between playing a game a lot, and being addicted to it. There are no defined clinical ways to spot addiction to video games. However, I'm going to suggest a few things which may serve as warning signs:
  • Severely Decreased Social Interaction. This is probably the hardest symptom to spot conclusively, unless you are living with the person. But a lot of individuals "at risk" from video game addiction may not be that social to start off with, so a change may not be percieved.
  • Lying about Gaming Time: behaviour which is sometimes seen in WoW addicts are attempts to conceal how much gaming they do. Of course, if they are concealing their game use well, you may never know there is a problem. but if you do, this is a sure sign something is amiss.
  • Computer related diseases: Suffering from repetitive strain injury may be another sign of addiction. It could also be a sign of working hard at your job, so be careful when applying this factor to people.
  • Neglect of work: This is a generic symptom of addiction, where the addictive substance takes priority over work and social interractions.
  • Inability to stop Gaming: This is the most sure sign of addiction as long as the other symptoms are present as well. If someone seems like they are gaming a lot, but still have social lives and do well at work, you need to ask yourself whether there is actually a problem.
It has been stated that "very excessive videogame playing has consistently been associated with a wide range of negative health consequences including photosensitive epilepsy, auditory hallucinations, enuresis, encoprisis, wrist pain, neck pain, elbow pain, tenosynovitis, hand-arm vibration syndrome, repetitive strain injuries, and obesity" [2]


Getting addicted to these games often a bad thing, but it should be recognised that getting addicted to games doesn't happen greatly often. Addiction to games is usually a symptom of other factors and deficiencies in a persons life. An addiction to world of warcraft is a symptom of other underlying problems. It could be possible that the magnitude of these problems can affect the degree to which a person can be addicted to the computer game. But this is small comfort, because as computer games become more advanced, it is possible they can provide more sensory input, and a more immersive environment. The bait on the hook of computer games will become more and more beguiling as the industry progresses, and how long before we have a gaming world that is perfect? perhaps even better than life itself?


[1]Problems with the Concept of Video Game “Addiction”: Some Case Study Examples" Richard T. A. Woo DOI: 10.1007/s11469-007-9118-0
[2]"Videogame Addiction: Further Thoughts and Observations" Mark D. Griffiths,
DOI: 10.1007/s11469-007-9128-y

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