Patient C said he feels an intense power and excitement when he plays interactive power games.
Patient D turned to a computer game for comfort after she wrecked her car.
A therapist who treats paraphilias tells me that a good proportion of his patients download pornography at their workplaces as well as at home (Kafka, personal communication, 1998). Other technologies have been considered addictive, including the telephone, television, pinball machines and video games. All these activities initially provide positive rewards for their use. Once someone is addicted to a behavior, however, the positive rewards are diminished. Gambling, for example, requires an early win to catch the player. Without a win, the gambler will leave in frustration. If the gambler wins and then loses, he or she will continue to play, taking more risks by raising the ante. The gambler chases losses by expecting to win on the next play.
For the Web surfer, satisfaction must come early, or the user will leave the site. Web pages are aptly named because of the many links attracting the computer user to new experiences, causing him or her to lose track of time. Patient D, who complained about the amount of time she spent online, said she could not leave the Web because the next connection might be just what she was looking for.
The newest lure is Internet gambling. Shaffer (1996) points out that it is not the addictive quality of the games or program, but rather their capacity to influence the human experience that is the important element to be studied.
Buzzell (1997), who describes the effects in some children who have had seizures watching a TV screen, asks whether the same effect might occur in children who play computer games by the hour. Eastman (1998) goes even further, suggesting that the activity of watching a screen may be hypnotic, and may therefore contribute to the addictive process by maintaining the exposure for longer time periods.
What is it that makes participation in activities like MUD (multi-user domains), Internet relay chat groups, Internet support groups and surfing the Web so compelling? It is a combination of factors which are balanced in nondependent individuals who can surf the Net, enter data, play games or engage in an online forum without it interfering with their other real life obligations. Those who cannot do this can be classified as dependent or addicted.
In the online world, people can become anyone they wish to be. Furthermore, they believe that they are part of a group. Being part of a MUD allows a participant to play a prescribed role that would be impossible in real life. As an example, a young patient fell asleep in class from staying up at night for hours directing a power game.