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World of Warcraft addict fights back

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A study in 2006 looked into social consequences of video-game playing among adults: 25 percent of participants neglect another hobby, 20 percent said socializing with friends, family, and/or partner, or sleep, and less than 10 percent said work and/or education.

But in February, the American Psychiatric Association declined to include Internet and related addictions in its 2013 edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, citing insufficient research.

During Van Cleave’s struggle, he found even less resources. He says he never encountered a single health professional who understood gaming addiction. So he did his own research to figure out his relationship with gaming.

The result of that research was Unplugged: My Journey into the Dark World of Video Game Addiction. The book, released on June 1, describes his personal experiences and the answers he found to why the games have the power to pull players in.

“The idea that someone was worried about these same subjects twenty years ago shocked me,” Van Cleave says in a news release for the book.

“It also assured me that we weren’t having the right conversations about these things since the same problems still exist. That helped me keep writing even when I didn’t think I could go on.”

The day after Van Cleave’s moment of clarity on the bridge, he took concrete steps to change his life. He cancelled his subscription to World of Warcraft, closed his other gaming accounts, and boxed up the CD-ROMs. But it wasn’t an easy transition, and he felt withdrawal symptoms from not playing WoW.

His mind continued to play at night, strategizing for the game. His stomach felt twisted in knots. For weeks, he felt he should return to his games, so he could stop feeling lousy.

From his research, Van Cleave identified seven main driving forces of video game addiction: beating the game, competition, mastery, exploration, highest score, story-driven role-play, and relationships. He says WoW and other massively multiplayer online games have all seven motivators, making them so successful in keeping players in the game.

WoW alone has had 11.5 million subscribers since 2008 and plans to release a new installment this year. As part of the appeal, players make choices that direct game-play.

“When you go watch a Hollywood blockbuster movie, you sit down, and it happens,” Van Cleave says. “If you get up to go to the bathroom or get a Twix bar, the story continues. With the game, the story stops. There’s a strange obligation that you stop the universe from moving forward, so you feel like you need to go back.”

Van Cleave still plays games – but rather than play alone, he does so in front of his family and for limited amounts of time. He still gets the pull of these video games. The game is the one place that’s not yelling at you, calling you a loser, he says.

A gaming world in some ways feels superior to the real world. “If there’s a war, you’re part of it,” Van Cleave says about playing. “If you’re having a relationship issue, you can fix it. If you do a good thing, you are rewarded for it. It’s real clear who the bad guys are. They tend to wear black hats. The good guys have white hats.”

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