Discussion: Video Game Addiction & Retro Gaming Collections

Discussion-Addiction-to-Video-GamesThe retro gaming community is a wonderful place. Filled with plenty of like-minded individuals all focused on the love of pixels and a nostalgic past, it's a great feeling being part of the second life we all lead through gaming. Having said that though, I've noticed a big increase in the number of fellow collectors claiming they are more than addicted to the hobby we know and love as retro gaming. On the surface this sounds a ridiculous claim, however, when you listen to their justification you'll sit up and take notice. One YouTube user recently stated that retro game collecting has had a largely detrimental effect on his life. His fear of missing a bargain, an unquenchable desire to enlargen his collection and a compulsion to continually buy games to showcase on his YouTube channel, all leading to upset and frustration.

Every waking moment our addicted subject lived through in recent times had supposedly been tarnished by a need to continually check the latest listings in the video game category on eBay. He had spent more money and time than he should have on a obsession with buying retro games and everything else the hobby desires. Adding to this, the addition of playing through these purchases had become such a big part of his life that he claimed it interfered with other important aspects of life. In a movingly honest video, the YouTube user said he had once dreamed of travelling the world and experiencing different cultures - yet as a result of spending all his money on old games, this dream had been auctioned off long ago.

This YouTube user - one remaining anonymous - is not making any unique claims. Having talked to many members of the retro gaming community, there are plenty who state they spend more time playing old games than they probably should. If not playing, they're also quick to admit that the buying side of things occupies their waking thoughts. One even admitted that while his wife was in labour he was looking at eBay on his mobile. Another said that he even bought games on his wedding day.

Born into an addictive hobby

Addiction is defined as the state of being enslaved to a habit, practice or activity to such an extent that it's cessation causes severe trauma and its continued practices has severe social or economic repercussions. While it may not be driven by a substance dependency (like a drug or alcohol addiction) the aforementioned behaviour of some collectors certainly suggests that obsessive retro gaming or collecting exhibits signs of addition. Noted counsellor and psychotherapist Ciaran O'Connor is seen as an authority on video game addiction, though he prefers to talk of it as "excessive gaming". He believes it is important to draw distinctions between, those who play a lot of games for recreation and those who feel played by the games.

"My research, my own experiences and my work have shown me that excessive gaming is gaming that is not solely for enjoyment. While many functioning gamers will play games with a genuine delight, those that struggle to control their gaming are likely to have other reasons to keep going."

"Excessive video gaming should not be confused with spending a lot of time gaming" O'Connor observes. "Someone who loves games, but can easily put them down to spend time with others, or attend to their work and well-being, is not using them excessively; they are just enjoying them. When gaming becomes excessive it can have a powerful negative impact on mental health – commonly associated with depression and social anxiety."

Like the common perception of video gaming as a whole, the public's view of a video game addict is stereotyped: They're the teenager who plays 'Call of Duty' when they should be studying, or the Korean MMORPG fan who forgoes food and sleep for a 48 hour session. "Historically, the excessive gamer has been the teenage boy playing hardcore games such as 'World of Warcraft' for six hours plus a day - this does not fully reflect today's gaming market" O'Connor observes. "Today, the average gamer is in their 30s and the gender mix in gaming is nearly even."

Gaming's spread to a mass market means we consume titles in a much wider manner than ever before. Consequently, O'Connor notes that "social games" presents just as much of a danger, particularly when there's monetary or tangible rewards for successful play. "Snackable games such as 'Candy Crush Saga' and 'Clash of Clans' encourage many brief, frequent visits throughout the day and offer the player in-app purchases upon which they can spend limitless amounts of money. Don't be blinkered into thinking that you or someone you love is not gaming excessively because they don't fit into an out-dated stereotype."

Fortunately, I've never considered myself in any way addicted to retro gaming. I undeniably enjoy it and think about it a great deal, but no more so than I do my job. If I had to sell my collection tomorrow or could never play games again, I'd certainly be sad but my world would keep on turning. I've also (through strict and necessary budgeting) never excessively spent or had the buyers remorse that goes with impulsive gaming purchases. Family commitments mean that I barely get any chance to play games at home, so I can safely say that I also don't have an addition to playing. That being said, every few months I do have a compulsion to play an RPG; a need driven by a desire for escapism. I really enjoy immersing myself in a story, getting lost in a world. While It would be insensitive and inappropriate to say my desire to experience a few random encounters bares any comparison to someone struggling with a chemical or psychological addiction, many experts flag the genre.

Collecting-is-Normal

The Video Game Addiction Organisation (part of the ADT Healthcare group) argue that RPGs "allow their players to speak and act very differently to their normal everyday personalities. Someone who is very shy can be talkative and charismatic, or someone passive and physically weak can become a confident and powerful superhero. An ordinary person is suddenly able to command armies, race fast cars (and crash them explosively!) or otherwise wreak complete havoc and destruction in a make-believe world that has no consequences in real life."

Playing a different life, or escaping into another world is why we play RPGs, but for that to remain healthy, we have to be willing to turn off the game console and not long for the digital world left behind. Former addict and Guardian journalist Tom Meltzer claims that "in the cases of many addicts, the world of the game was a private and unassailable refuge from a seemingly hostile world." The Video Game Addiction Organisation suggest that for some, switching off simply isn't possible . "Sadly sometimes people can lose their real selves in their "gaming persona" - that's when real lives start to take a turn for the worse, and professional help is needed."

This situation is thankfully rare and the reality is that I'm reflective of the majority of video game players; enthusiastic but able to balance consumption in accordance with every day life. Estimates of the rate of addiction among gamers have varied wildly. The Daily Mail frequently offers scares stories that the majority of our nation's children are helplessly hooked; skipping school to maximise playtime. It's an over exaggeration and while some research has said 8% of video gamer players are addicted the true number is likely to be far lower. Professor Mark Griffiths, director of the International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University, estimates the real level of addiction at less than half a percent. "I've got very strict criteria that I use for video-game addiction: it has to be the most important thing in that person's life. They have to use it as a way of consistently and reliably shifting their mood." An addict, he argues is "unable to stop playing even when they know they ought to, with knock-on effects on their work and their relationships". "But, if you're unemployed with no partner and no kids and from the moment you wake up you play video games, and you play all day, that's not an addiction". Controversially, Griffiths suggests that addiction has nothing to do with the amount of time or money you spend on something; a bigger concern is imbalance. If you can afford it and have the free time there is no need for concern. "Its an addiction if an addict is unable to get access and they get withdrawal symptoms."

In the UK, doctors have yet to start treating video gaming addiction as a condition in itself (in the way they do for alcohol, drug, sex or gambling dependency). Instead, it is often considered a symptom of some deeper problem. For the aforementioned YouTuber, amassing retro games meant praise and acknowledgement from the community; something that in-itself can become seductive and compelling . Indeed, while countless online stories talk of video game addiction as being linked to simply play, the examples noted prove that retro game collecting begins to show the characteristics of "compulsively hoarding". Gizmodo columnist Rob Bricken talks of his compulsion to buy toys in a way that'll be familiar to many retro collectors. "I've often compared toy collecting to being a heroin addict a la 'Trainspotting' and not just because there was a certain time in my life when I would have crawled through a filthy Scottish toilet to get a Star Wars Ree-Yees figure" he once said. "Toy [and by extension Video Game] collecting is a compulsion that ignores sanity, common sense and reality alike."

Meltzer argues that, while illogical to many, his toy collecting is completely normal. After all, most people collect something. Some fill their kitchen cupboards with 3-for-1 Cans of beans that just happened to be on offer at Tesco. Others pack their wardrobes with great bargain clothes they got in the Boxing Day sales (even though they don't quite fit). Many people collect objects that seemingly have little value to anyone but themselves, from used concert or movie tickets to the art work created by their toddlers. Social commentators think that for most, collecting is healthy, natural and ultimately beneficial. "There's several general motivations — one is that it's a challenge," says Russell Belk, professor of marketing at York University in Toronto. "But it's a challenge within a smaller world than generally succeeding in the world of business or a career, and so there's a greater chance of success."

eBay-Addiction

For the majority of people, collecting doesn't really interfere with their ability to function in everyday life. "We sometimes see collecting as fairly fun and frivolous" adds Balk. You may joke online that you're hoarding PlayStation 1 demo discs, but your hobby very likely does not qualify you for the disorder of hoarding. According to British researchers Ashley Nordsletten and Mataix-Cols up to one-third of adults engage in some form of collecting. In contrast, 2-5% of the adult population would meet the criteria for a diagnosis of hoarding" suggests the Anxiety and Depression Association of America . "Hoarding can be related to compulsive buying, the compulsive acquisition of perceived rare curios, or the compulsive search for perfect or unique items (which may not appear to others as unique)". ADA America suggest that "people hoard because they believe that an item will be useful or valuable in the future. Or they feel it has sentimental value, is unique and irreplaceable, or too big a bargain to throw away." They draw a distinction between buying to complete a set, and buying even when the collection is perceived by others as complete: Everyone wants to own pristine copy of a favourite game but when you continue to buy copies of the same title, for any price, in any condition according to Dr Fugen Neziroglu (Director of the Bio-Behavioral Institute) your beloved collection may be evolving into a hoard.

Hoarding is not the same as collecting...

"Hoarding is not the same as collecting. In general, collectors have a sense of pride about their possessions and they experience joy in displaying and talking about them. They usually keep their collection organised, feel satisfaction when adding to it, and budget their time and money. " Hoarding is a disorder that may be present on its own or as a symptom of another disorder. Those most often associated with hoarding are obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. You buy something simply because you fear the consequences of not buying it. "Collecting is knowing when to leave something that while desirable isn't needed for either your well being or collection [...] hoarding is being unable to resist even if the acquisition has ultimately detrimental effects".

If you've read this and heard warning bells know that there are people able to help. Retro gaming is a wonderful hobby and a great investment that'll inevitably increase in value over time. However, if collecting is causing you upset alongside pleasure it may be time to reevaluate your gaming, collecting and life balance. It's always good to be in control and perhaps seeking support is a good way to achieve this.


Last Updated ( 15 November 2016 )  

Julian Hill

Julian is the author of the popular blog Boxed Pixels, and is currently on a mission to document his thoughts as he buys boxed complete SNES Games.

Described by PlayStation Access as a "gamer, Dad and all round hero" he has been playing games since they had four colours on screen and blips for music.

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