In our increasingly pampered society, it's difficult to know exactly where to draw the line between 'addiction' and 'really wanting to do something'. If I had tried to explain to my dad that the confiscation of my Spectrum 128k+2 would constitute a human rights abuse, and that I needed medical care, he'd simply have laughed. That kind of attitude no longer flies.
The Chinese government has been running video game addiction clinics for years, and since last year internet café owners have been legally obliged to install software on their machines that tells the player to take a break after three hours, removing points if they fail to comply.
In 2006, the first European video game addiction centre, the Smith & Jones Clinic, opened in Amsterdam, and yesterday on BBC news clinic founder Keith Bakker made a surprising disclosure: 90 per cent of people who seek treatment aren't addicts at all.
"These kids come in showing some kind of symptoms that are similar to other addictions and chemical dependencies," he says. "But the more we work with these kids the less I believe we can call this addiction. What many of these kids need is their parents and their school teachers - this is a social problem."
In other words, they need to fix their ideas and jolly well grow up. It's not only that, though.
"Eighty per cent of the young people we see have been bullied at school and feel isolated. Many of the symptoms they have can be solved by going back to good old fashioned communication."
Fair point. At the risk of sounding argumentative, though, there's an element of snobbery here. When Bastian in The Neverending Story reads to escape his troubled reality, nobody accuses him of having a 'book addiction'. Reading enriches him, and the whole premise of the story argues that he should never stop. Thank god for bullies.
In any case, Bakker is damn-right in peeling off the addiction label. Admirable, too, in that he presumably profits from treating people who deem themselves addicts rather than more rightly as people with poor self control seeking a perfectly legitimate escape into a creative medium.
"If I continue to call gaming an addiction it takes away the element of choice these people have," he says. Well put.