“Her name means love in Korean. Three-month-old Sarang died in her sleep of malnutrition. The 5 1/2-pound baby wasted away while her parents spent their nights playing Prius Online, raising a virtual child in a Korean cyber cafe as they neglected their real one at home.
Love Child, a documentary about the 2010 death and the culture surrounding it, started airing on HBO this week. Director Valerie Veatch, also the director behind HBO’s ME the Zoo, told Polygon that her documentary isn’t meant to be an attack on the game industry, but instead a way to spark an important dialogue.
Villanova University’s Patrick Markey, an associate professor of psychology and an expert on how video games affect human behavior and relationships, said that there is no question that some people play video games excessively and that doing so could lead to negative consequences. “However, people engage in all types of activities excessively if that activity provides enjoyment or distracts them from other issues going on in their lives,” he said. “For example, a person under extreme stress (either due to work, children, or just because they are generally anxious) might engage in excessive gameplay as a way to avoid dealing with this stress. In this manner excessive gameplay might be considered more of a symptom of an underlying issue than the actual cause of a problem.”
Markey dismisses the notion that video games are addictive as an “artifact of media hysteria.”
“There is currently no major organization which has accepted that video games are addictive in the same manner as drugs or gambling,” he said. “In short, video games might encourage high levels of engagement but they are not addictive.”
For some, the distinction is the difference between addiction and obsession.
“The claim that video games are addictive often conflates chemical addiction with obsessive behaviors,” said Adrienne Shaw, an assistant professor at Temple University’s department of media studies and production. “More than that, as Carl Hart from Columbia has found, our understanding of chemical addiction has been largely shaped by the assumption that it is not a rational choice. Doing so stops us from dealing with the underlying causes of the chemical addictions and obsessive behaviors.”
Pathologizing excessive game play can actually be a hindrance, she said. “When people neglect their kids, I suspect there are many more issues at play than video game obsessions,” Shaw said. “If it wasn’t games, it would probably have been something else.”