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Gaming Addiction On the Rise in Asia

Many Southeast Asian countries are struggling to curb video game addiction with little success.

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By Paul Gaita

12/16/13

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Approximately 84 million of the world’s estimated 1.2 billion online gamers reside in Asia, according to a recent report by the market intelligence firm Nico Partners. Unfortunately, Asia is also the world leader in gaming addiction, which has reportedly risen since coming to the attention of Asian news agencies in the 1990s.

The actual number of confirmed gaming addicts remains uncertain, with reports varying between two and 25 percent of all gamers, but the situation remains one of grave concern to Asian government and law officials. Gaming addiction first gained national attention in China, where the 2009 documentary "Who Took Our Children" detailed 30 separate incidents in which online gaming led to serious health issues and even the death of gamers and those around them, including the notorious case of a 17-year-old who poisoned his parents after they forbade him from going to an internet café. As a result, treatment centers, public clinics, and even boot camps sprung up in an attempt to stem what officials regarded as an epidemic.

But such institutions soon garnered negative publicity for inhumane methods of breaking the gaming habit among young people, including beatings and electroshock therapy. Less draconian methods appear to have yielded results, including the South Korean government’s curfew for gamers under the age of 18. But as Dr. David Greenfield, Director of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, noted, “The jury’s out on whether the treatments in Asia are working.” By contrast, there are only three facilities handling gaming addiction in the United States, though Greenfield says that “the number of referrals for my clinic have probably gone up by 300 to 400 per cent in the last two years.”

Criteria for gaming addiction is similar to that of other addictions – compulsive usage that interferes with life, an increased need to play more games and withdrawal symptoms upon ending a game – but Greenfield adds that the majority of people who overplay online games do not qualify as addicts. Those individuals, whom he identifies as mostly high school and college age players, are not necessarily addicted to the game, but the mood-altering effect created by the experience of playing the game. “The drug of choice creates the addictive process,” Greenfield says. “But it doesn’t matter what it is. It can be alcohol, or cocaine, or gambling.”

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