The pop of gunshots are heard in the distance. Licurgo Almeida’s eyes pan from left to right as he sprints into the middle of the road, being careful to keep his head down before taking cover behind a wrecked car. In an instant, he drops to the debris littered street. Almeida squeezes his controller and shakes his head as he sits in his dark apartment, hunched in front of the television. He is playing Killzone: Shadow Fall on the Playstation 4 gaming console, which he purchased hours before. As the new generation of gaming consoles is launched, people of all ages are immersed deeper than ever before into a high definition alternate reality, drawing them in for hours at a time.
The Playstation 4, Sony’s latest gaming console, was released Friday, November 15 at midnight. Local electronics retailers Gamestop and Best Buy held midnight releases for customers willing to withstand the bitter cold of Ithaca, NY to get their numb fingers on the anxiously awaited console. 1.5 million units were pre-ordered this year compared to 1 million in 2006 when the Playstation 3 was released.
With new consoles only released every few years, Almeida, a self-proclaimed “hardcore gamer,” says that he has been looking forward to playing the new console for some time now. He also admits that he already knows that he is going to spend a lot of time with his new technology.
“My girlfriend is going to be traveling this week, so I’ll have a lot of time to play,” he said with a smile.
Almeida is not alone. Around the nation, gamers will log hours upon hours of time on their consoles. For some, those hours will turn into days of playing without stopping. Their relationships become less important. They will not show up to work or school. Their lives become secondary to gaming.
Dr. David Greenfield, an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, says that the Internet and video games are designed like “slot machines,” with the intention to draw users in and surprise them with pleasure.
“The internet and everything on it is operated in a way that you can’t predict when you are going to see something or hear something or find something that you like, which will then give you a reward in the form of the elevation of dopamine, “ said Greenfield.
This unpredictability is what keeps gamers hooked, he added. Without it, the brain would lose interest.
According to techaddiction.ca, symptoms include neglecting personal hygiene, withdrawing from interpersonal relationships, lying about how much time is spent playing a videogame, and losing interest or enjoyment in things that are not video games.
Will Durkin, a student at Cornell University says that although he was at Best Buy’s midnight PlayStation 4 release and he will be logging plenty of hours, he will not be skipping classes or work. He did, however, think of a friend who would lose control when a new game was released.
“I had a friend in high school who would take two days off whenever a new game or console came out,” he said. “People can get pretty intense.”
A 2008 Pew Internet and American Life Poll found that 53% of Americans spend time playing a videogame. Of those, one in five are adults who say that they play regularly. While college students like Durkin and his friends will spend lots of time playing, one third of men in their thirties, like Almeida, will spend over ten hours a week playing. However, that does not make them an addict, Greenfield says. Only somewhere between four and six percent of gamers are “addicts.” The rest are defined as “abusers.”
According to him, addiction cannot be defined based on a number of hours playing. “You have to look for other characteristic, “ he said, “like the compulsive use of the technology in spite of obvious and consistent negative consequences in their lives.”
Of those who will be logging hours on the newest gaming console, few are likely to develop a gaming addiction. However, Greenfield does think that a pre-existing addiction can arise.
“I don’t think that a new game technology necessarily will create the addiction, but it will provide the fuel for that addiction to manifest.”