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MMORPG's Found More Addictive than Online Casino Gambling


by Hillary LaClair, Senior Editor
February 14, 2008

              Many anti-gamblers have proclaimed that the internet is a gateway drug of sorts for the problem gambler. Opponents of online casinos argue that such an easily accessible industry opens the door for gambling addictions in youth. However, recent studies show that MMORPG’s, or Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games, are the monsters hiding under our children’s beds – with addiction rates an astonishing 32 percent higher in World of Warcraft players than in gamblers.

                A study by Howard Shaffer of Harvard, who has intensely studied the behavior of gambling addicts, found that less than 2 percent of Americans are compulsive gamblers out of the 8 percent that has admittedly engaged in online casino gambling. Conversely, a study from clinical psychologist Dr. Maressa Hect Orzack shows that of those who play Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft, adoringly labeled World of Warcrack by many of its players, 40 percent have an addiction to the game.

                Orzack, who has studied problem gaming for 11 years as the founder and coordinator of the Computer Addiction Service said that, “even if the percentage is 5 to 10 percent which is standard for most addictive behaviors, it is a huge number of people who are out of control.”

                She notes that in an MMORPG, the player is subject to “variable ratio reinforcement,” a term used in psych circles to describe how the game rewards correct behavior to keep its players enticed. E.G. A lab rat that must press a bar to be given food will press it faster and more often if it is unaware of how many times it needs to do so. In World of Warcraft, players are rewarded with an “epic” piece of equipment when playing the game, but are never sure when it will drop or at what rate.

                “This isn’t about willpower or restraint,” Orzack adds. “These games are very elaborately designed to ease you in gently, entice you, and keep you there. And it’s a cycle: people begin to spend too much time playing and their careers and personal relationships begin to deteriorate.”

                For this reason, rehabilitation centers have begun to open around the globe to treat gaming addictions. At the announcement of the grand opening of the Wild Horses Center in Amsterdam, a rehab program for gaming and cellphone addictions, some WoW gamers shared the stories of their addictions.

                One commenter writes on a news article referring to the clinic, “I was once a World of Warcraft Addict. I played WoW for over a year and it was quite literally the only thing I thought about. My day consisted of work, WoW and sleep with the occasional splash of something else. I did the math one day and found out that 40% of my life was spent behind the computer. 8 hours at work 5 days a week and the rest was WoW. I have not even removed the time I spend sleeping.”

                The wife of a gaming addict added, “My partner is addicted to a game called Imperial Conflict to the point that it is worrying (me). He can sit up from 7 in the morning till {sic} 4 in the morning playing this stupid game. He lies about what time he comes to bed. I can’t remember the last time we went to bed together at the same time.”

                Those who feel they may have a gaming problem are prompted by Orzack to contact Computer Addiction Services. Visit http://www.computeraddiction.com for more information.