We've all seen this question asked on various forums over the years. It's often asked about other games too, so RuneScape has no need to feel special! However, as it comes up fairly regularly, I thought it would be worth taking a look at what we mean by "addiction" and seeing whether or not it can be applied to hard-core, "no-life" RuneScape players or anyone else in game for that matter.
First of all, it's important to remember that people are hard-wired to seek out pleasure. Actually, it's not just people, all living and breathing beings seem to be hard-wired the same way: if it gives them pleasure, they'll do their best to get more of it. That's how you train dogs – rewarding them for doing what you want. Doesn't work quite so well with cats though, but to some extent it can be done. You teach little kids good behaviour in much the same way – reward them for positive behaviour, instead of focusing on the negative. It doesn't take long for the average two-year-old to figure out that getting what he or she wants is directly related to the way they're behaving. So where does the line between "having fun" and "addiction" fall? When is too much RuneScape (or anything else for that matter) too much?
We'll start, in the best scientific tradition with a definition of "addiction". Can one even be said to be "addicted" to a game? Let's see what the experts say… From MedicineNet.com, we get the classic definition of addiction:
A chronic relapsing condition characterized by compulsive drug-seeking and abuse and by long-lasting chemical changes in the brain. Addiction is the same irrespective of whether the drug is alcohol, amphetamines, cocaine, heroin, marijuana, or nicotine. Every addictive substance induces pleasant states or relieves distress. Continued use of the addictive substance induces adaptive changes in the brain that lead to tolerance, physical dependence, uncontrollable craving and, all too often, relapse. Dependence is at such a point that stopping is very difficult and causes severe physical and mental reactions from withdrawal. The risk of addiction is in part inherited. Genetic factors, for example, account for about 40% of the risk of alcoholism. The genetic factors predisposing to addiction are not yet fully understood.
Wikipedia has a pretty good article which is well worth reading, but much too long to quote here. The important part however is:
Psychological addictions are a dependency of the mind, and lead to psychological withdrawal symptoms. Addictions can theoretically form for any rewarding behavior, or as a habitual means to avoid undesired activity, but typically they only do so to a clinical level in individuals who have emotional, social, or psychological dysfunctions, taking the place of normal positive stimuli not otherwise attained.
Finally, we'll turn to the ultimate authority on psychological disorders: The DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition). While this worthy tome has a large section on addiction, or rather "Substance-Related Disorders", which is restricted to the use and abuse of recreational drugs, medications and toxins. No computer games. They seem to think that psychological "addictions" don't matter unless they cause harm to the addict or his/her associates.
It doesn't really look as if one can accurately describe oneself as "being addicted to RuneScape". Perhaps a better term might be obsessed -- which is a much more accurate term for non-physical "addictions" such as gambling, shopping, exercising, or playing computer/video games.
Now that we have more or less ruled out addiction in favour of obsession, how does it manifest itself in terms of RuneScape? What would be some of the key indicators that you might have a problem, and should possibly step away from the keyboard for a while?
Surprisingly enough, how long you spend playing the game is not one of them. While it's not good to spend all day every day chained to your PC, simply saying that playing RuneScape for more than N hours a week is a sign you're obsessed, doesn't work. Different people will have different amounts of free time for one thing; also, the same person may have different amounts of time to play on different occasions. For example, a schoolkid will have a lot more time to play during school vacation, than when school is in session. That same kid might well play a lot more during winter vacations– because it's dark, cold and nasty outside – than during summer ones. So we can rule out the arbitrary "if you play for more than N hours a day, you're obsessed."
A lot of the psychology of non-physical addictions/obsessions is about avoiding the unpleasant aspects of one's personal reality. The chosen behaviour substitutes for the things that one finds too difficult to deal with. If reality is miserable, then escaping from it can seem like an excellent course of action. When I was a kid – back when dinosaurs ruled the earth and there were no computers – my escape from reality was to read books. This actually turned out to be a very good strategy on my part, as my parents thought reading was "good for me". I was seen as a quiet and studious child, when in fact I was lonely and miserable a lot of the time. But I successfully managed to avoid a lot of unpleasant reality all the same!
A more accurate measure of whether you're spending an unhealthy amount of time in-game, is what you choose not to do in favour of playing RuneScape. Despite what all sorts of overpaid people say, I don't think anyone who'd rather play a game than do their chores is evidencing any form of mental illness, quite the contrary – I'd be worried about someone who preferred doing chores to having a good time. The problem comes when instead of sighing dramatically and doing the dishes, or whatever your assigned chores may be, you hide out in your room playing your game.
It's not a problem if you and your friends (both real life and online) hang out together in-game. Whether you're playing in the same place on a local network (either home, library or computer lab) or not, you're still playing together and interacting. That's no different from being in a chat room or talking on the phone. It is a problem, though, if you turn down the opportunity to hang out with friends in order to be in-game with chat turned off. It is a problem when you isolate yourself from family and friends. If Postie Pete is the only person on your friends list, you might indeed have a problem!
If you choose to play RuneScape, or other computer or video games, instead of doing your school work or homework; if you call in sick to work so you can be in-game the moment the latest update is released; if you stay up all night then find it impossible to get up in the morning to get to school or work; then you can probably consider yourself obsessed.
Obsessions can be short-term or long term. There's a phenomenon observed around dating known as "NRE" or new relationship energy. All of a sudden you're in love and everything is wonderful. You bounce around, you're happy, energetic, and totally besotted by your new love. You can get that sort of obsession with a new game – it's actually very common. However, it's a short-term obsession and, as such, pretty harmless.
Even a determination to make it to the front page of the high scores table, isn't necessarily an unhealthy obsession. As long as you don't play RuneScape to the total exclusion of every thing else, you'll probably get over it.
So, to conclude what has become a rather long piece, it's not how much time you spend playing games that is the problem. Nor is preferring to play the game over doing chores a problem. The problem comes if you are playing RuneScape (or any other game) to the exclusion of all other activities. A healthy life is a balanced life: work or school, sleep, chores, interaction with family and friends, games. If you're not doing some or all of these, then something is out of whack.
We only get one shot at life. Nobody's last words have ever been: "I wish I'd spent more time at the office" or "I wish I'd spent more time cleaning the bathroom". However many people have said "I wish I hadn't neglected my family and friends". Play RuneScape, have a good time, collect all those fancy skill capes, but don't neglect the real world. I've been told that parts of it are almost as good as RuneScape!
Did You Know...
...that your in-game quest journal for the Tears of Guthix quest tells you when you can visit Juna the snake again for free experience points?
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