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Students control video game addictions

Final exams week is approaching, but that won’t keep college students from playing their video games, and their grades may not suffer.

College students are big players in the video game field. While many studies have linked video games to negative academic performance, upperclass students have found ways to play while maintaining other responsibilities like jobs and school.

Ali Mahmood, an electrical engineering graduate student at University of Kansas, mostly plays first-person shooter games like Call of Duty and Medal of Honor on his Playstation 3, but he plays strategy games on his computer too.

“It’s random,” said Mahmood, who is an international student from Islamabad, Pakistan. “Sometimes I don’t play for months. If I’m playing regularly, I usually play three to four hours of days. I have intervals of when I don’t play.”

KU mathematics senior Bryan Harris currently plays Dance Dance Revolution (DDR), a physical dance-stepping game, and Japanese role-playing games like Shin Megami Tensai. The Overland Park, Kan. native first started playing video games when he was in first grade. He currently plays three to four hours per day. But he said he has always been a good student, even with the hefty hours.

“In the past, I didn’t manage,” Harris said about playing five to six hours per day in his freshman year of college. “I just happened to have easy classes so I wouldn’t study for them. Now that I have two on-campus jobs and I’m taking upper-level classes, it’s gotten to the point where I haven’t played in five days.”

Video game addictions

Harris and Mahmood may be considered video game addicts by some standards. And while they say they don’t take a grade hit with it, some of their friends weren’t so lucky. Harris had a friend who would constantly skip class to play video games.
“It was his sophomore year,” Harris said. “He failed all his classes first semester and he failed almost all of them second semester. He does absolutely nothing but play video games all day. It’s people like him because he can’t manage his time.”

David Jarmolomicz, an assistant professor in applied behavioral sciences, researches addictions and associated behavioral problems. He said that video game addiction is a growing concern in the country.

“Funding is starting to come from other addictions,” Jarmolomicz said. “People are noticing it’s something that is starting to become problematic.”

While other addictions like drugs and alcohol rely on external chemicals that make them addicting, video games use the brain’s natural functions to get players to keep playing Jarmolomicz said. One of the ways you learn is by a reward system. If you do something good and feel rewarded or accomplished, your body increases dopamine production, a chemical that reinforces the desire to continue the behavior.

While dopamine production serves as a natural and beneficial function, too much can naturally cause an addiction.

“”It’s like a switch,” Jarmolomicz said. “It’s stuck in the on position. It’s a clever way of hijacking the mechanisms that were built so we can learn from and enjoy positive things. They have people who are trained in behavioral analysis that get hired for videogame companies to make the games more appealing to players.”

Perhaps a result of this natural process, Harris said his experience with video games has helped with time management. “It’ll be even more busy as a grad student,” he said.

Mahmood said his grades don’t suffer from his playing time.

“It doesn’t really interfere with my academics,” Mahmood said. “Even when I have finals, I tend to play more instead of socializing. With video games, you can play missions real quick. If you hang out with friends you tend to spend the whole night.”

But Mahmood doesn’t play video games just to pass time, it comes more naturally for him.

“I play them when I’m tired of reading books, hanging out,” Mahmood said. “For me, it’s more like a relaxation kind of a thing. It’s not like I’m waiting for some free time. It all depends on what games are out there.”

Jarmolomicz said that so far, there is no research suggesting that specific genres of videogames are more prone to addiction.

“It depends on how games are developed, and the person playing,” Jarmolomicz said. “Strategy games are set up to keep you coming back for more. In some ways sports games are socially oriented. It’s also about what the player likes.”

Treatment and finals

Harris will put his DDR sessions on hold during Finals. And he became obsessed with DDR while growing up as can be seen with his current president of the KU Dance Dance Revolution Club student organization, which organizes DDR gatherings.
“All of the members of the club have one thing in common,” Harris said. “We’re all interested in DDR. In video games.”

Video game addiction is a relatively new area, which is why it’s hard to say how to get help with the addiction.

“Unfortunately, how to treat addiction is one of the weaker sides,” Jarmolomicz said. “It’s kind of difficult to say. There’s not a lot of research on it yet. But find a way to get the video games away from yourself, strategies that remove the opportunity to play video games.”


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