It's hard not to enjoy a good game or two of the highly successful strategy game "Starcraft" or it's blockbuster sequel "Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty." The game features a great story line, smooth game play, a competitive atmosphere and nearly endless opportunities to make friends, curse enemies and generally waste away an entire day. Or two. Or hundreds.
How many times have you sat down for a quick game, only to drag yourself to bed hours later after one game turned into two, which turned into three which turned into four or more? Or how many times have you been late to work, appointments or even meet ups with family because you wanted to squeeze one more game in? What about the times you blew off going to the gym? Or skipped hanging out with friends? Maybe you've even taken time off work just to play a few "Ladder" games?
Let me pause and clarify something: I'm not against video games. I play them very often, actually. Nor am I suggesting that Starcraft is a vile, unruly mechanism on par with illicit drugs. Far from it.
What I am saying is that there's a difference between enjoying an activity versus letting that activity consume (and in some cases even destroy) your life. What I'm getting at is:
Starcraft Addiction: Is It Real?
To answer that, let's further define "addiction." Here's what PsychologyToday.com has to say:
"Addiction is a condition that results when a person ingests a substance (alcohol, cocaine, nicotine) or engages in an activity (gambling) that can be pleasurable but the continued use of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life responsibilities, such as work or relationships, even health. Users may not be aware that their behavior is out of control and causing problems for themselves and others."
Let's look at this phrase: "... engages in an activity... that can be pleasurable." Is Starcraft pleasurable? Absolutely. We wouldn't play the game if we didn't derive some for of pleasure from it.
But here's the kicker: "... continued use of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life responsibilities..." Long story short, casual gaming rarely gets in the way of everyday life. But when the world around you erodes while you play game after game, you've got a problem.
Psychologist list 10 common characteristics of addiction:
- The person becomes obsessed and constantly thinks of the behavior (in this case, playing Starcraft).
- They will seek it out even if it's causing physical, emotional or relationship harm.
- They will play it over and over, even if they want to stop.
- withdrawal symptoms occur when the person stops.
- They have no conceptual realization of how much/long they've been engaging in the behavior.
- They may hide the behavior from friends and family, or downplay it.
- They will deny they have either a problem, or deny the side effects, or both.
- They will often "black out" the extent of a binge, that is they won't realize they've spent 10 hours playing.
- Depression is common. Research is split: Some professionals feel depression triggers addiction, others suggest addiction causes depression. But the point is that there is a huge correlation between the two.
- They'll lose self esteem and unable to control their behavior, letting it become the major focal point of their lives
So yes, it is absolutely possible to become addicted to Starcraft.
Hardcore Starcraft players are often aware that Starcraft is extremely popular in South Korea. It's so popular that the elite players are revered like rock stars, and entire stadiums sell out when the best-of-the-best square off in a head-to-head game. It's no surprise that the psychology community over there has spent considerable time studying Starcraft both as a cultural phenomenon and as a personal issue.
Researchers at Chung Ang University discovered that the drug Bupropion (commonly used as an anti-depressant and anti-smoking aid) decreased heavy players' average Starcraft playing time by 35 percent per week after taking the drug for about a month and a half. And MRIs showed decreased reaction to images of some of the games popular characters.
(The study was published in several academic journals, but I found it thanks to Wired magazine: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2010-08/19/starcraft-addiction)
In my opinion, the fact that a psychology department at one of the world's major universities even took the time to study this is evidence that experts believe the game has - if nothing else - the potential to become addictive. And the fact that heavy duty drugs helped regulate playing time casts even more light on this.
How To Take Control Of Starcraft Addiction
Obviously we just learned that prescription medicines are an option, but I'd personally like to regard that as a "last resort." But it's also important to note that addiction isn't to be taken lightly. Quitting "cold turkey" rarely works (for every smoker who successfully quit this way, there are hundreds, maybe even thousands who found their way back to cigarettes).
Here area few steps that PsychCentral.com recommends, particularly as it relates to video game addiction (http://psychcentral.com/lib/2007/coping-with-video-game-addiction/).
- Track your playing time. Keep a log book and jot down every time you start playing and when you stop. Also make notes regarding the amount of games your played. Do this for a week or two.
- Start Weaning slowly. Look back at your journal and figure out how much time you spent playing, then try to find ways to shave that down by 10 percent.
- Commit to living in the moment. Take responsibility of the side effects of playing Starcraft. If you choose to ignore your spouse or significant other because you're destroying some Zerg, Protoss or Terrans, don't be surprised when they don't stick around.
- Realize you don't need it. While playing Starcraft is fun, it won't benefit you in any other way than simply having fun while you're playing it, though it could harm you. Your life outside the game will not reap any positive influence from gaming; for example, your boss won't care if you're ranked in the Diamond ladder league, but he will care if you show up late for work because you were stuck in a battle.
- Turn it off. Try this sometime: Start a game (doesn't have to be a competitive one), play for a few minutes and then purposely and intently exit the game. It may seem trivial, but knowing that you have the power over the software (not vica versa) is a huge eye opening experience for many video game addicts.
- Realize that technology works for us, not the other way around. We, as humans, created technology to make our lives easier, not more difficult. Furthermore, we are the ones who maintain control, not it. That goes for Starcraft, too. Racing home to play a game (or to stay up all night playing) is a sure sign that you're on the opposite side of the relationship fence.
If you put a full faith effort into these steps, I think you'll be surprised at the results. It won't be easy, but you can do it!