Are you a Virtual World Whore? Virtual Addiction, Part 1

Do you crave the fun, excitement, and pleasure of virtual worlds to the detriment of the rest of your life? Would you do anything, give anything, just to be able to spend another couple of uninterrupted hours in a virtual space, Multi-User Virtual Environment (MUVE) or gaming environment?

Smoking - one of the legal addictions.

You have a problem. You are a virtual world addict.

What does it mean to be “addicted”?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) uses the term “dependency”. The upcoming DSM-V will use the term “addiction” once again to describe the condition, since “dependency” has other connotations that confuse the issue. “Addiction” is the term used by many physicians and most lay people.

Under the DSM-IV, “substance dependency”, the condition from which the diagnostic criteria for behavioural conditions was extrapolated, is paraphrased as follows:

  1. The substance is required for normal functioning, and withdrawal, a physical and psychological reaction, occurs when the substance is suddenly withdrawn. Additionally, any adverse consequences, be they physical, psychosocial, financial, etc, are endured for the sake of getting and taking the substance.
  2. The substance initially causes pleasure, euphoria and/or feelings of well-being, though this experience diminishes in intensity over time, so that more of the substance must be taken in to experience the same effect. This is known as tolerance.
  3. Any substance in which a person indulges in uncontrollably is addictive.
  4. A “reward circuit” is set up by substance dependency, in the brain; that is, taking the substance leads to a reward, and the brain undergoes a neuro-plastic change, so that the brain is then primed to desire the reward again.

What does it mean to have a behavioural addiction?

Being addicted to a particular behaviour bears a strong resemblance to substance dependency or addiction. The difference is the behaviour is carried out, in place of a substance being taken. The following items hold true:

  1. The behaviour needs to be carried out to maintain normal functioning, and withdrawal occurs if it is not.
  2. The behaviour induces pleasure; tolerance is built up over time, so that the behaviour must be carried out more or more often in order to achieve the same level of pleasure.
  3. Any behaviour in which a person indulges in uncontrollably is addictive.
  4. Changes in the brain occur in response to the repeated pleasure and withdrawal pattern.

“It's a compulsive behavior, and it doesn't matter if it's Everquest, Second Life, World of Warcraft, City of Heroes, Internet porn or gambling.

How is “Internet” addiction different, new, or special? (For “Internet”, read browsing, email, Instant Messaging, online porn, online gaming, and participating in MUVEs).

Short answer: very little. The specifics of the type of pleasure engendered, the type of withdrawal experienced, and the consequences of enacting the behavior differ from other addictions as other addictions differ from each other – otherwise there would be no point in having a different classification for each. The basics, though, are identical to the basics for all behavioral addictions.

“It’s a compulsive behavior, and it doesn’t matter if it’s Everquest, Second Life, World of Warcraft, City of Heroes, Internet porn or gambling,” states Tateru Nino. The sufferer “could not find balance.”

The essential problem seems to be that people mistake the medium for the message. When they hear that folks are “addicted to the Internet”, they blame the Internet, the medium, for the problem, whereas the Internet is simply provides a new source of behaviors for people who would have had behavioral addictions anyway. By extension, it’s not the fault of virtual worlds that people become virtual world addicts.

In the next article, On Being a Virtual World Whore – Virtual Addition, Part 2, we investigate the ins and outs of suffering from virtual world addiction: what are the specific classifications for this addiction, what are the withdrawal symptoms, and what are the consequences?

Comments

  1. I am most definitely a Virtual World Addict. I have avatars in about 15 virtual worlds. And I just signed up for another! If ever these worlds begin to cross visit I’m going to have some serious personality issues to deal with! {:o) I saw a guy yesterday and thought “I’d like to have a copy of his shirt”. I then realized I was in real life at the time.

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