Whether or not video games are addictive or provide a useful learning environment is a hot topic. It is unfortunate that the term “addiction” is even bandied about. (Yes, it is a part of the title of my book. I explain the wording in the book itself.)

Nick Yee, Stanford PhD, whose work I highly respect, suggests using the phrase “problematic playing” instead of “addiction” as the term has too many connotations and is simply too messy at this point.

Having said that, if we are to use the term addiction as meaning extensive and problematic playing, then my own bias should be clear: most any thing or behavior can be recruited to maladaptive ends. There are people who use food, sex, exercise, or shopping in a problematic manner. Games are no different.

Today’s news shows two ends of the bias. One research article claiming gender bias involves a phrase:


“After analysing the MRI data, the researchers found participants of both sexes showed activation in the brain’s mesocorticolimbic centre, the region typically associated with reward and addiction.”


Implicating “addiction” because the brain’s mesocorticolimbic center is involved is problematic in itself as this center can also be involved in learning endeavors. The phrasing shows a bias simply by invoking the word “addiction.”

(I am, however, being unfair to the authors of the article as I have not been able to get my hands on the original. Rather, I am commenting on the report of the article. If anyone has a direct link, please either send it my way or add a comment with a link.)

Meanwhile, Massively points us to a BBC article describing the learning opportunities for children in massively multiplayer worlds. From the article:


“Virtual worlds can be valuable places where children rehearse what they will do in real life, …”


The article goes on to describe eight various roles adopted by those playing. These roles are termed explorer-investigators, self-stampers, social climbers, fighters, collector consumers, power users, nurturers, and life system builders.

An addiction, involves a repetition of behavior as does learning. We need to recognize the setting in which the player is found and how the relationships to that setting are altered prior to suggesting a negative role of any behavior. A biased approach, unfortunately, can serve to enhance that bias, meaning that potential positives will be lost.