Addictions or Not?

On Wednesday, the American Medical Association (AMA) rejected listing excessive video-game playing a formal psychiatric addiction. Instead, voted for a directive encouraging more research on whether video gaming can be classified as a mental disorder. The AMA tabled any further possible classification until 2012, when the next update is scheduled for the American Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This is used by the American Psychiatric Association (APA)to diagnose mental illnesses, while insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and government policy makers use it as a decision making guide. The APA released a statement outlining its position on the issue last week.

While this was going on, there appeared an interesting little article in the Wall Street Journal on the same day of the AMA vote by Lee Gomes titled, "Computer Scientists Pull a Tom Sawyer To Finish Grunt Work," (subscription required). The story is about "Elite computer scientists are using highly addictive computer games to trick unsuspecting Web users -- possibly including children -- into toiling without pay for some of the world's richest companies on stupefyingly dull grunt work." It describes the ESP Game which connects two random players via the web, and according to Gomes, "Both are shown the same picture, then have to type in possible keywords to describe what they see. If the keywords match, points are awarded; people have been known to play for hours."

I wonder how long it will be before the ESP game and ones similar that are being created by other university computer scientists who are looking to emulate its success will attract the attention of university research ethicists. Even though the AMA has rejected the notion - for now - that excessive video game play is a mental disorder, it does express concern about the possible deleterious effects of long term game play. Is the ESP game exploiting those who are susceptible to excessive game play for profit?


Risk Factor

IEEE Spectrum's risk analysis blog, featuring daily news, updates and analysis on computing and IT projects, software and systems failures, successes and innovations, security threats, and more.

Robert Charette
Spotsylvania, Va.
Willie D. Jones
New York City