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Was Panorama's investigation into videogame addiction fair?

Last night, the BBC broadcast an episode of Panorama investigating videogame addiction. We want to know what you thought of the programme, and of videogame addiction in general.

Luke Westaway Senior editor
Luke Westaway is a senior editor at CNET and writer/ presenter of Adventures in Tech, a thrilling gadget show produced in our London office. Luke's focus is on keeping you in the loop with a mix of video, features, expert opinion and analysis.
Luke Westaway
3 min read

Last night, the BBC broadcast an episode of Panorama investigating videogame addiction. You can watch it on iPlayer, but we wanted to know what you thought of the programme, and of the concept of videogame addiction in general.

Panorama reporter Raphael Rowe spoke to people who claimed they were hopelessly hooked on online games such as World of Warcraft. One such person was Joe Staley, who said, "I wouldn't move from my bed, because my controller would be on my side table. I'd turn it on, play, then realise it's about 3 o' clock in the afternoon. It could be up to a full 12 hours or more, or overnight."

During the course of the programme, Rowe spoke to several more people who claimed to be addicted. It was notable, though, that the people Rowe spoke to were self-diagnosed addicts, or had been labelled addicts by friends and family, rather than by any kind of medical body.

Rowe also travelled to South Korea, a nation with a massive gaming population. It's a country in which competitive gaming is a popular pastime, and several cases of gaming-related deaths or neglect have been documented. He spoke to Kim Seong-byuk of South Korea's Youth Protection Division, who claimed that gaming addiction was a real problem, and that "without proper countermeasures, the UK will also face the same problems that Korea is facing when games become more accessible through high-speed Internet".

We're not convinced by that claim -- broadband speeds seem an unlikely cause of gaming addiction, especially as most popular online games require only a moderate amount of bandwidth.

Most insidious was the suggestion that game developers deliberately design games to be addictive. Adrian Hon of games company Six to Start was quoted as saying, "Some games are designed in a manner that you just don't want to leave."

The show likened gaming behaviour to that of rats in scientific studies that compulsively pushed a lever when food was thereby delivered randomly. "In games, instead of food, you randomly get extra lives, or extra in-game features to keep you playing," Rowe said. "The idea is to create a compulsion loop to keep us coming back for more."

The show wasn't entirely one-sided. Rowe also spoke to Michael Rawlinson, big cheese of the UKIE (the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment), which doesn't support the notion that videogames can be addictive.

After the programme was aired, the UKIE, which received a grilling from Rowe for failing to put disclaimers about the potential dangers of videogames on its website, responded in a statement, "There is currently no proven link between video games and addiction, with there being mixed opinion among academics about whether a game can be clinically addictive."

As avid gamers, we found ourselves moderately irked by the Panorama programme, but it proved hard to get too upset about an investigation that didn't make any definite claims -- its conclusion went no further than insisting more research is required into whether videogames are addictive or not.

At one point, Rowe actually said in a voiceover that "stories of game addiction are nothing new". For us, that just about sums up the programme -- there was nothing new on show, just old arguments that have been rattling around since Pac-Man nommed his first ghost. 

But what do you think? Did you watch Panorama's investigation? Did you think it was lazy and inflammatory, or well judged? Do you know anyone who you'd consider to be addicted to videogames? Let us know in the comments section below.