Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Endgame for online addicts

Counsellor who once lived for video games now helping others break their habit.

James Driver played a video game 16 hours a day for two years. Now he's trying to help other addicts kick the habit.

Mr Driver, now 31, was well known in his late teens as "Benway Monochrome", a top-level bard who killed many dragons in the online game Everquest.

He warned a recent gambling conference in Auckland that game designers were now using the same psychological tricks as the gambling industry to hook online players into spending.

"Increased availability of video gaming devices, combined with increased advertising and social acceptance of gaming, has led to growing rates of video gaming addiction," he said.

"The economic model of games, particularly mobile games, has moved towards coercive monetisation and micro transactions.

"These two facts combined will lead to an increase in video game addicts exhibiting symptoms and behaviours similar to problem gamblers."

His presentation drew an emotional response.

One man said he had overcome an addiction to pokie machines and now realised that he had subconsciously replaced them with online games. His cousin had become "the strongest character in Australasia" in an online game, but lost his job and almost lost his family as a result.

Mr Driver said international research found that about 10 per cent of all young people aged 13 to 25 were "problem gamers" who spent so much time playing games that it affected their study, work and relationships.

He is part of a generation that has played computer games "as long as I can remember".

"My parents felt quite early on that I was spending too much time on it," he said.

While he was still at home in Christchurch they restricted him to an hour or two a day. But when he moved out to flat with a friend, although he enrolled at university, Everquest soon took over.

"Everquest has been referred to as Evercrack [cocaine] because it is so addictive," he said.

"Within a month or two I was playing pretty much all day, six to eight hours a day. I was still going to lectures occasionally, but it increased and increased and in my second year at university I stopped going to lectures. So it built up until midway through that year I was playing every waking moment."

Everquest is a fantasy game involving dwarfs, elves, monsters and dragons.

Players' characters survive when the players log off, so the next time they log on they start at the level they left at last time, building up gradually from level 1 to level 60. They form "guilds" of up to 40 players to defeat the biggest dragons.

"We played so much that we were well known and well regarded for our ability," Mr Driver said.

Now back in Christchurch as a psychotherapist, he can see that the game gave him a sense of competence and popularity that he struggled with in the real world.

"I had terrible social skills," he said. "I experienced severe bullying at school so I was pretty depressed."

He said therapy for his depression helped him to gradually reduce his gaming, and he now offers therapy to help others.

On the web

www.netaddiction.co.nz.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf04 at 22 Dec 2014 15:55:24 Processing Time: 597ms