UPDATE: The Sun ‘investigation’ claims gaming is ‘as addictive as heroin’

As if video games aren’t already bad enough, it has now been revealed that they are as addictive as another really bad thing.

So says The Sun, anyhow, which has a spread in today’s paper (via @scully1888) with the headline: ‘Gaming as addictive as heroin’ carrying a ‘The Sun Investigation’ logo.

The online version is locked behind Murdoch’s paywall and we’re not paying for a physical copy to read, but a quick look at the tweeted picture reveals an assortment of chilling ‘facts’:

  • ‘Brits reach next level of mental health risk’
  • ‘5,000 calls to one clinic for help’
  • ‘Call of Duty link to three suicides’
  • ‘Dopamine levels increase in the brain’
  • ‘It gives you a kick and a chemical buzz’

There’s also a picture of some brains that we should imagine demonstrate the addling effects of playing Dear Esther and Katamari Damacy.

Of course, learned readers of Britain’s other daily fact bible The Daily Mail have known about video gaming’s heroin-like powers since September 2010.

Mind you, last month the media went mental when it was claimed that the sun (no, not the paper – the actual celestial body at the heart of our solar system and facilitator of all life on Earth) is also addictive like heroin.

As are pain killers. And sugar. And exercise. And, we’d argue, Ben & Jerry’s Peanut Butter Cup ice cream.

UPDATE 1: Following what can best be described as a spirited debate with The Sun’s deputy head of publishing Dan Silver on Twitter (in which we are accused of lacking journalistic integrity for having not read the piece in full – that’s the piece with the headline ‘Gaming As Addictive As Heroin’ in massive yellow Hollywood blockbuster font) MCV went out and get itself a copy of the paper.

We also promised we’d change the entire thing if we think we’ve been unfair”.

We’re not changing the story. And here’s why.

It opens with the assertion that Britain is in the grip of a gaming addiction which poses as big a health risk as alcohol and drug abuse, a Sun investigation has revealed”.

In the grip of a gaming addiction? Well, yes, there are a lot of gamers. As big a health risk as alcohol and drug abuse? The Office for National Statistics reported in February that there were 8,367 alcohol related deaths in the UK in 2012. Which we would argue stacks up fairly poorly against the zero proven gaming related deaths in the UK in the same year.

Estimates on deaths from illegal drug use seem less specific, although the figure of 1,750 is offered by The International Centre for Drug Policy at St George’s, University of London for 2011.

So that’s 10,867 drug and drink deaths versus no video games deaths. As big a health risk”?

It continues: Just last week, The Sun told how a 45-year-old woman had been jailed after stealing 1,000 from her disabled mother to fund her Candy Crush Saga habit”. Which presumably carried the headline Women jailed for stealing”?

Dr Aric Sigman then says: When you do something like shoot heroin or drink alcohol, your brain produces dopamine to make you feel good, which you learn to associate with the activity.

Video games can do this too. When young people play them, their brain produces a notable increase in this addiction chemical. That’s something that gives you a kick and a chemical buzz. The faster, more violent games are a more intensive experience, so will produce more dopamine.”

OK. Firstly, supposedly this dopamine is produced by all brains, as all people of all ages can become addicted to drink or drugs? Yet young people” are mentioned specifically. Why is that?

Then there’s the claim that faster, more violent games are a more intensive experience, so will produce more dopamine”. There are plenty of non-violent games that offer a more intense experience” – Burnout, Amplitude, Rez, Need for Speed, Guitar Hero, even Tetris! They will presumably offer the same risk?

We had an unbelievably tense game of Hearthstone online last week and yes, we hold our hands up – we fancied another game immediately after! Even we struggle to contest that fun can be worryingly moreish.

The paper goes on to cite therapist Steven Noel-Hill of London’s The Alcemy Clinic.

We tried to check the website for that – it’s down, although we did discover that Noel-Hill is a former football agent and recovered gambling addict who used to work for The Priory.

The Alcemy clinic specialises in American bootcamp-style treatment, with Noel-Hill claiming that addiction sufferers should be extracted from their community for treatment.

The reality for young people at risk of going off the rails is that they are surrounded by temptation every day, when they are with friends and at school. Even the home environment can be too risky for many,” he said in a 2012 press release for his addiction treatment business.

The problem is not just drugs and alcohol but issues with excessive internet use and gaming too. With the advent of social networking and smart phones these activities are incredibly difficult for adults to police.

Early intervention in a controlled environment away from temptation is crucial to help these kids reassess their relationships with friends and loved ones, make more positive choices in the lives and to have a chance to make changes for the better."

Another way of reading that is that he has a vested financial interest as he’s trying to sell the services of his clinic.

The paper then mentions a spate of gaming-related deaths” that have taken place around the globe. It cites six specific cases, as well as a coroner who recently linked Call of Duty to three of four” inquests into teen deaths.

So even if we give the paper the benefit of the doubt and readily declare that all ten deaths were directly and indisputably linked to video games (which is almost certainly no

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