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“My aunt called me and told me to run home immediately and call her as fast as I could,” recalls Lama al Haqhaq, a 21-year-old university student. “Naturally, I was worried and ran home to call; it turned out she needed me to sign into her Facebook account to take a pot off the stove and put another dish on in this game called ‘Restaurant City.'”

You often hear people say, “That game is so addictive,” but delving deeper, that is not a statement to be made lightly.

Addicted to gaming

According to Dr. Jeremy Alford, a Beirut-based clinical psychologist and multimodal cognitive behavioral therapist, “[Being addicted to electronic games] is termed ‘gaming’ and it is just as serious as any type of other addiction.”

Christopher Korban, a computer engineering student who played Counter-Strike on a daily basis for 11 years, explains that an occasional player becomes an addict when “he starts ignoring other activities and people to play the game.” He continues, “Skipping class and meals to play a game are also some of the tell tale signs of an addict.”

Escaping reality

Dr. Alford explains that, most of the time, “gaming” is subconsciously used as a protective mechanism against things they cannot control. It is an escape from reality. He also mentions that most patients being treated for depression or anxiety show some signs of a gaming addiction. He explains, “Gaming is usually an indication of underlying personality issues…” Sarah Mounzer, a gaming addict, confirms that “in a virtual world, I am a God, and if I die I get a second chance; in real life, I’m just a nerd.”

Engineering addiction

“It’s like any other product; when you make a soap for example, you want to make it unique to be ahead of the competition…people want their products to be addictive,” says Farah Ghannoum, a creative advertising major. The competition is to make, literally, the most addictive game. In order to do that, there are certain elements within a game that can be manipulated to completely engross the user.

One element is the time requirement. Games like “Farmville” and “Restaurant City” use this technique to constantly get players to come back. Requiring a player to remove a pot of food at a certain time, or pick their crops regularly, makes the game a part of their everyday routine. “I would be doing my laundry and thinking that I have to harvest my crops on Farmville,” says Joumana Adwan, a wife, mother and housemaker. “But it never got addictive; it’s only entertainment,” she insists.

The reward system of gaining points, or passing levels, or even surpassing your Facebook friends, plays on the competitive nature of humans. Korban explains: “In whatever game you are playing now, be it a simple game on your phone, to a game on Facebook, to a full[y] fledged computer or console game that costs millions to make, you get some form of achievement when playing, by doing random tasks. These tasks are often menial and have nothing to do with the actual game, but are still sought after by gamers. It gives gamers a sense of accomplishment.”

These days, even games on X-Boxes or Playstations can be networked to other people in the same room, or across the globe, pushing the players to get better and beat as many people as possible. “Practice makes perfect,” says Mohammad Bekdash, a recent 23-year-old business graduate, as he swings the Wii remote and dunks his virtual basketball. “I want to be the best, so I play with as many people as possible, and when I run out of people I try to beat my own previous score,” explains Bekdash. Mustafa Dimachkie, a 22-year-old student at the American University of Beirut, sums it up nicely: “I’ve been stuck playing World of Warcraft since 2004. I once played for 72 hours straight. The game is made to be addictive. I have even seen CT scans that show an increase in a person’s endorphins when playing the game.”

Just a game?

Two years ago, Joumana Adwan’s 14-year-old son, Ziad, only thought about gaming. Now, however, he has a healthier concept of playing games. When asked if he is addicted, he responds, “I know that it is just a game; I finish it, then it’s over.”

To others it may not be so simple. “In a PC world, my dreams become a virtual reality,” says Omar Salaheddine, an architecture major. To reiterate Dr. Alford’s words, games only become addictive once they consume a person’s thoughts and behavior, but game makers are making it very difficult to resist the temptation.

This was previously published in Hibr Lubnani issue 12.