Tanya Byron compares games to heroin addiction

Dr Tanya Byron may have became a ‘friend’ of the industry when conducting her

six-month Government Review

– but a new BBC

TV show written and fronted by the child psychologist

is unlikely to have been well received by the UK games business.

Am I Normal?, screened at 9pm on BBC 2 last night, investigated the subject of video games addiction – even going so far as comparing an ‘obsession’ with interactive entertainment with a reliance on cocaine or heroin.

Byron introduced the section on games addiction by narrating:

Most of us think of games as the preserve of the teenager; young people escaping into a virtual world of fantasy. It’s an attractive but artificial world where they can give themselves a new identity and a status and power unobtainable in reality.”

She spoke to World Of Warcraft ‘addict’ Michelle Hart, 39. Hart said she had been playing the game for two years and spends much of her non-working, non-sleeping life at her computer.

In one section that may make the industry particularly uncomfortable, Byron said:

Michelle Hart is not what you would imagine as a dedicated gamer. She’s an intelligent, 39-year old woman with a decent job and no history of psychological problems.”

Byron later added:

It might seem ludicrous to compare a childish computer fantasy game with hard drug addiction. But addiction counsellors offering treatment to gamers argue that there are key similarities in the way that the consumer gets hooked into coming back for more.”

Byron spoke to counsellor Stephen Noel-Hill, who she revealed was himself a recovering gambling addict” – and who had set up a recovery clinic in Amsterdam which welcomed ‘games addicts’.

Byron revealed that he believed computer gaming has become an addiction every bit as pernicious as more conventional drugs”.

She added: The families of computer game addicts can pay as much as 2,500 a week for treatment in Amsterdam.”

During this interview, the programme flicked to an image of a heroin addict ‘cooking up’ using a spoon.

Speaking to camera after the interview, Byron said:

Of course, many would argue that the problem with labelling something like video games as an addiction is that it can absolve the young person or their parents of stopping the out of control behaviour – and absolve the role of parents and friends in preventing these difficulties.

"However, if we combine the pleasurable aspects of gaming or gambling with an individual who has other psychological or emotional needs, it become more obvious how this behaviour can become addictive.”

Byron also spoke to a biological psychiatry scientist, who made the link between dopamine produced during game playing and users snorting cocaine.

She later sat with Michelle Hart in a discussion with genuine drug and alcohol addicts. Gamer Hart quickly dismissed the idea that she faced a similar addiction to others in the discussion.

In a previous interview with MCV, Byron revealed how she regularly plays video games with her family.

On numerous occasions, she has also said she is particularly keen to ensure the public realised that there are many adult games for adults”.

For more Tanya Byron quotes from the programme – and to read what her game-related participants had to say – click here.

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