Book Review – “Video Game Addiction” by David Olle and Jean Westcott

A book published by Mercury Learning

By: Diego Vásquez, Apr. 2018

One of the gems from my rounds at the Penny Arcade Expo 2018 (PAX East) in Boston was the Mercury Learning and Information, LLC booth, where their Marketing Manager Jean Westcott took the time to introduce me to some of many books about video games, one of such books was Video Game Addiction by David A. Olle and Jean Riescher Westcott herself.

You may immediately think that a book with that type of title is not precisely an typical find at a gaming expo, so I asked Jean why did Mercury Learning decided to publish a book on Video Game Addiction and more interestingly, why bring that book to an event like PAX East? She commented that “… Video Game Addiction as a topic has been treated either with alarm or dismissed, and this volume tries to provide a more balanced descriptor and provider of resources for those who either feel that their gaming has gotten beyond their control or loves or supports someone who might have a problem with their gaming.

What the book talks about is a condition US-based Psychiatrists formally refer to as Internet Gaming Disorder and the World Health Organization has classified (still in draft) as Gaming Disorder. The book itself hints that diagnosis requires more research, but this has not stopped many professionals to create a significant amount of literature about the subject: from risk groups, symptoms, social and personal consequences all the way to treatment options. These and other subjects are covered within the book in a concise way that is useful for gamers, parents, and educators.

I also asked her about the book’s reception on the show floor and she added: “We brought this to PAX East knowing that it might not be well-received. PAX is about celebrating gaming of all types and it might have been perceived by some as an unwelcome message to this group of enthusiasts. There were a few scoffs by passers-by and a few people nudged the person they were with and said things like, ‘you need that book!”. When questioned about bringing it, I did explain that it is meant as a resource who feel that their gaming has them caught off-balance. People who engaged in conversation about the book were in agreement that games are designed to keep you playing, especially free-to-play games. We only sold one copy to a woman for her husband. There were some uncomfortable conversations between couples about whether or not the other was addicted. I would try to bring the conversation back around to the idea that the book is about finding your way back or getting the help you might need if you feel like gaming has taken too strong a hold on your life to the point of it affecting personal relationships, your ability to support yourself or damaging your health.

And I can perfectly picture these kinds of conversations taking place among partners, teachers and students, family members… I for sure have had similar exchanges with my wife and kids about the time we individually dedicate to gaming in our home.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first part of the book has an introduction on video games, their history and the different video game categories: this includes summaries about where and how video games are played, which are some of the most popular games and what the typical video game player profile looks like. I found these chapters to be concise and comprehensive for non-gamers but still interesting for readers who are themselves play video games regularly.

The authors were successful in picking the right tone for the book specially when tackling players and video game stereotypes: any gamer can identify themselves in the book as well as the games they play. Not that gamers need a book that describes them – this is instead important for two reasons: a gamer reading it will not shun it away, and because they would probably feel satisfied feeling that everybody else reading the book is getting an accurate, non-biased picture about them.

David Olle commented on this subject: “Addiction can be a loaded term that can cause strong reactions among people.  We hope the PAX East attendees did not go away thinking that the book was biased against gaming. In fact, for the large percentage of gamers, the activity can be enjoyable and stimulating. When properly applied and managed, video gaming can even be beneficial for people suffering from psychological and other medical condition.

The second and largest part of the book is more about the psychological aspect of playing and video games, and of course with a good introduction of addictions in general. I really liked how Video Game Addiction is characterized in the book, especially with relation to other similar conditions like substance and gambling abuse. The technical depth is enough to be useful for the target audience of the book. The case studies presented are relevant and interesting, but for me, the best is how the authors describe how excessive gaming and the addiction itself affects the ability for individuals to perform in school, family and professional environments.

David Olle commented: “As Jean has mentioned, we made every effort in the book to present a balanced view of the topic. Instead of getting hung up on labels such as “addiction” or “disorder,” it would be best just to recognize the situations where gaming is developing into problems for the gamer”.

Wrapping up part two, there is a whole chapter about the benefits of video gaming in general – I must say this was a refreshing change of tone from as early as the book’s introduction (where the author referred to gaming as “… not entirely detrimental”). Playing (and by extension, gaming) are activities that are not only very natural and spontaneous but also an essential part of young people’s own development. In adult life, gaming serves as an essential stress-releasing distraction. The book recognizes this and continues describing other benefits, like those for learning, education, rehabilitation and therapeutically.

The last part of the book is about treatment, recovery and the life of a game addict. Counseling, medication as well as behavioral changes are mentioned. There are also some thoughts on parenting as well as self-help for the gamers themselves. It appears to me that this is however not the strongest focus of the book in part because the quality and quantity of interventions and treatment options for game addiction are also yet not completely defined. David Olle: “The field is continually evolving, and the book is not meant to be the “final word” on the subject”.

An important aspect on the topic is the Design Values of the games on the market and the fact that many game developers and publish profit on the reward pathways that are essential elements of playing games. Many video games are designed to exploit this beyond the natural enjoyment that makes them fun to play, but are designed instead in such way that leaving the game is difficult for any player who is not aware of his own gaming habits. David Olle commented: “MMORPG games such as World of Warcraft do seem to become addictive as the games never end, although the object of the developers of the games was to keep the gamers connected to increase their income, not for addiction per se. There has indeed been quite an evolution in the way video games are played, so currently, there is a higher level of engagement”. For example the recent gaming community craze about in-game “Loot Boxes” which are special items present in many games and that the player obtains from fulfilling game objectives or simply by continued playing. This is a growing problem and Jean highlighted this from the PAX East show floor: “… the discussion of loot boxes, the book was finalized as problems with loot boxes were just rising as a point of concern.”.

As a final note, I must say that I was surprised to feel a bit of anxiety myself while reading in the book that the main way of measuring the success of treatment of game addictions is simply how much less time a person devotes to gaming – something like this may be obvious. I am a gamer but I do not consider myself to be addicted, still I did not want to believe that being “cured” is equal to not playing anymore. This bit helped me realize how real and difficult it must be for a video game addict to recognize himself as such and to make the decision to start treatment.

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I hope you liked this review as much as I liked the book. Thanks to Jean Westcott @DigiDaunted for making a copy of the book available, and to her and to @DavidOlle1 for taking the time to answer my questions!