Why The Sun's "games as addictive as heroin" article does more harm than good

Feature Ryan Lambie 9 Jul 2014 - 06:38

The Sun has run an article suggesting that videogames are "as addictive as heroin". Ryan takes a closer look...

British tabloid newspapers have long thrived on attention-grabbing headlines, and yesterday's edition of The Sun was no exception. "Gaming As Addictive As Heroin" the paper trumpeted, before laying out a rather disparate selection of claims to back the statement up.

Cases cited included a Candy Crush fan from Sheffield, a student who spent half of each and every day playing League Of Legends, and a story from earlier this year about several teenage Call Of Duty players who had, tragically, committed suicide.

That games are addictive is something newspapers have covered many times before. The Sun's latest article is, however, unusually hysterical even by the paper's typical standards. Above a box-out, videogames are described as "the scourge of our generation", Dr Mark Griffiths provides a list of 10 questions designed to help readers ascertain whether they're a game addict. The questionnaire reads like any test for addiction. The questions include: is it the most important thing in your daily life? Has it affected your day-to-day goings-on at school or workplace? Do you play games as a way to make your mood feel better? 

The fact is, anything that affects the dopamine levels in the brain can be potentially addictive. As a bizarre top-10 list in The Mirror proved earlier this year, it's possible for people to become hooked on sausages, the wearing of wigs, funerals, tanning, coffee enemas and chewing lumps of ice. The one thing that links all these disparate activities? They all send a rush of chemicals hurtling around the brain - a sensation which could, for some people, lead to addiction.

Playing games, with all the fear, excitement, danger and joy they can provoke, are therefore just as likely to be addictive as anything else that alters the chemical levels in our brain. To suggest that games are as aggressively addictive as a class-A drug, or that "Brits reach next level of mental health risk" is, however, entirely misleading - something Dr Griffiths, who provided that 10-point questionnaire was clear about when he spoke to Eurogamer.

"I've spent well over 25 years studying video game addiction," Dr Griffiths said, before later adding, "Most kids can afford to play three hours a day without it impacting on their education, their physical education and their social networks. Yes, I believe video game addiction exists, and if it is a genuine addiction it may well be as addictive as other more traditional things in terms of signs, symptoms and components. But the good news is it is a very tiny minority who are genuinely addicted to video games."

Dr Griffiths also added that he'd been asked to provide the questionnaire (which is "based on real criteria I use in [his] research"), but hadn't seen the rest of the article published yesterday. "There is no evidence the country is in 'the grip of addiction'," he continued. "Yes, we have various studies showing a small minority have problematic gaming. But problematic gaming doesn't necessarily mean gaming addiction."

Addiction - to alcohol, drugs, gambling, or anything else - is a damaging reality for people all over the world, and in every case, there's a difficult emotional or economic situation behind it. But suggesting that videogames have, through some fuzzily-delineated breakthrough in technology, somehow become as much of a danger to us in recent years as a banned substance is irresponsible and misleading.

The cases cited in the article - a Taiwanese man who suffered a cardiac arrest after playing League Of Legends, a teenager who shot his parents, the suicides mentioned above, and so on - are genuinely tragic, and hint at deep-seated psychological problems among those concerned. There may well be lessons to be learned from them, but is there direct proof that these incidents were all directly caused by playing games? If so, the article doesn't say so. Instead, the entire topic is conveniently topic down into a graphic with the words "Violent Games Brain" printed above it.

The Sun's headline might hint at a genuine concern for the nation's wellbeing, but like all media-led moral panics, it merely serves to sell more newspapers. At the same time, it obfuscates a more nuanced debate about a serious subject.

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The Sun is a comic not a newspaper, having said that an issue of uncanny X Men has more facts in it than a whole months worth of that daily rag.

LMAO! The Sun and facts don't go together hand in hand

The Sun/Mirror/Star are papers ... the Times/Telegraph/Independent are newspapers.

The Sun couldn't care less about the nation's well-being, it just cares about the well-being of its circulation figures. Why anyone reads that rubbish is beyond me.

The Sun has always been a sad pathetic newspaper. Remember their disgusting Hillsborough coverage? Now they are so desperate to sell their papers, which is quickly beginning to resemble The Beano comic, they are even copying The Daily Mails tactics in trying to shock people. Complete failure, since most people don't even read newspapers anymore, and the readers are more clever and clued up than the stupid people who call themselves editors at these so called newspapers. How long before they copy the Mail and run a scare story on the deadly dangers of Cannabis as well? Hilarious.

I want to type out a reasoned response, but my Violent Game Brain means I just end up fragharahgraragaragga.

The writer of the article at The Sun obviously knows nothing of Video games or heroin.

I got addicted to Candy Crush, but then ended up being kicked out of the local pick'n'mix

I remember the Daily Mail's crusade against D&D and other P&P RPGS back in the mid 80's. "Ban these devil board games!!!" etc... They weren't banned, the world kept on spinning.

I'm fed up of getting outraged at all the "Games are bad, mmkay?" articles from these Z-list worshipping tabloid hacks. They always say the same thing and take the same worst-case examples as "proof" alongside "expert" analysis without actually providing any quantifiable statistics. In any of these articles I imagine I could just as easy replace the words "video games" with "[tabloid name]" to much the same effect.

I've not read the article myself (don't want to give "that paper" any of my time) but I bet a fair few gamers will have heard about it and bought the paper to see what all the fuss is about. All it does is drive up the reader numbers for a format that is becoming rapidly obsolete thanks to the internet and on-demand content. Most real newspapers recognise video games as a real thing now anyway - a valid medium to review.

This is the same paper that claimed phone hacking was a minor crime like taking cash in hand pay or littering in a recent article.

To be fair thou the paper is aimed at sheeple and bigots, it's just unfortunate that we have enough of those to make this a vailable business model.

"...is quickly beginning to resemble The Beano comic..."

I was a paperboy delivering this crap in the '80s, it was already comic-like back then!

"It is an almost daily occurrence with magistrates to have before them boys who, having read a number of ‘dreadfuls’, followed the examples set forth in such publications, robbed their employers, bought revolvers with the proceeds and finished by running away from home and installing themselves in the back streets as ‘highwaymen’. This and many other evils the ‘penny dreadful’ is responsible for. It makes thieves of the coming generation, and so helps fill our gaols.”

Alfred Harmsworth 1894 (Founded Daily Mail in 1896)

How dare you! The Beano is a magnificent publication! The two don't belong in the same paragraph!

A colleague read out this headline yesterday and I assumed she meant gambling machines. After a very brief discussion she saw reason and realised that addictive personalities will always latch onto something to consume and is one of the reasons why stream television and box set binges have become so popular, not necessarily because TV is so poor but because we can sate that need to find out what happens next, ie sate that urge. it's not as if you see the tabloids decrying Grey's Anatomy is destroying our children. Then again.

Paul, you are absolutely correct. Please accept my sincere apologies. The Beano is a far superior publication than The Sun, and is far more realistic and in touch with reality as well.

Fantastic quote. If anyone is corrupting British society, not that it needs much help, The Sun would be very near the top of the list.

Food and sex alter dopamine levels in the brain. Shall we write cheap scare articles on those too?
Morons. The assumed scientific literacy of the readership is absurd.

I'm glad I grew up in the 70's and 80's and was around to witness the evolution of gaming into video gaming. Makes me remember when we sat in my friends living room playing the spectrum classic 'CHAOS - Battle of Wizards' which is available on the google play store. Such innocent weekends, D&D, reading books, listening to heavy metal and drinking my mate's dad's home brew when they weren't in. I've grown up through various periods of generational whinging, I do it myself when I see kids with their noses stuck in their phones oblivious to what's going on around them. I guess it's part of growing up having seen my brothers go through the punk then mods and rockers troubles and listening to my dad telling me about his days as a teddy boy. People will always whinge about things that generations/groups of people do but the advantage that tabloids have is they do it to a much wider audience. Lazy journalism expected of The Sun. I remember they ran something about people getting repetitive strain injury in their thumbs due to texting...

I get a copy of the sun (albeit from the lunch room at work) on a regular basis. It makes a good liner for my kids guinea pig hutch!

I can't even be bothered to begin to respond to this, it'll only turn into a long-winded, rambling rant that'll state things that everybody on here knows already, and end with me lapsing into my usual state of misanthropy.
Suffice to say, you shouldn't buy the Sun, and WON'T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN.

I don't think anyone with a slight bit of intelligence ever takes notice of what is wrote in The Sun. Only brainless knuckle draggers who want to see a pair of boobs are at all interested in their lies, lies and more lies. JFT96.

Sometimes I get annoyed by comments sections on websites. Then I come here and read everyone's comments and get happy again :D You all deserve a pat on the back!

"The questionnaire reads like any test for addiction. The questions include: is it the most important thing in your daily life? Has it affected your day-to-day goings-on at school or workplace? Do you play games as a way to make your mood feel better?"
That's it - the World Cup should be banned. Although whether anyone's mood is better after last night's result may depend on their nationality, which team they had in the office sweepstake, and how many Brazilian defenders they had in their fantasy football side. In my case, English, Brazil, and one. So not too happy.

The same tabloid paper that says "Pornography is turning our kids into to rapists" yet if you turn to page 3, well...You know...Bewbs.

It is time for rebranding. No longer are the "video games" now we shall call it Interactive Entertainment. The two major hurdles that gaming has are honestly tied into the fact that the majority of middle aged individuals have very little experience with them and like always persecute and fear what they do not understand. My father could not play a game to save his life and for this reason he thinks games are stupid and overly complicated. Give it about 20-30 years and we will have much less of this garbage to deal with.

The Sun's articles are written by twats, for twats.

Sadly, people do. Sex is bad, and food is bad, you know you've seen articles along those lines.
If it's fun or tasty it's bad.

You tell em, Ryan. That article looks like total BS. Par for the tabloid course, of course.

Does the events of Hillsborough and The News of The World not prove that this gutter journalism has no merit whatsoever?
On The Batman 1989 blu ray making off's it was once incited by a Member of Congress of how Comic Books were destroying the Youth of the 1950's.
Nothing really changes does it?

Comics > Rap Music > Movies > Computer Games > ????? what's next?

You can't get addicted to reading the sun because the free lobotomy that comes with a subscriptions means no chemicals get sent to your brain and it's all immigrants fault.

This is the very reason I stopped reading (paying) for Newspapers years ago.
I'll never pay to have my intelligence insulted - I do that on my own!

Now if games these days would be addictive i would be one happy junkie!

Basically anything that is fun for geeks is in the crosshair of some boring jobsworths eyes. But the world has changed and so has it's dynamics. The world is run by geeks now, and this is our time. We will will be playing video games on PS6 and Oculus Rift long into the future, when The Sun and The Daily Mail will be nothing more than ridiculous distant memories.

That's a bit unfair on the Beano isn't it?

The games industry has consistently taken more cash than the film industry for a long, long time. Accusing it of being a boogeyman might have gained traction thirty years ago but now the effort just seems sad. Reporting it further has just attracted more attention to a paper designed to distract a wide demographic from existential thinking, chiefly what inane way could they get killed on their way to work that day.

Why not do a piece on Sigourney Weaver and all the cast of Alien (sans Ian Holm) recording their voices for a dlc for the highly anticipated Alien: Isolation game? The story broke hours ago but game news takes ages to appear on here!

DOPAMINE LEVELS INCREASE FROM RUNNING!!! Am I an addict because i do track and field?

The sad thing is, that these things were originally good. In a pre-historic world were calories were hard to come by, salty and fatty foods were a literal life saver. Sex felt good because, you know, babies are kind of important to a species' survival.

Our problem is that we have taken it too far, if we spent all day running around for 1 meal every couple of days and the only girl we came into contact with was named Ugg from a nearby tribe then things would be ok. But then, we wouldn't have computer games, and I'm addicted to those...

To be quite honest I think you're giving this nonsense more attention than it deserves.

the sun will publish any kind of bs

A double page spread comparing chalk to cheese - useful.
No one's talking about the devil that is OXYGEN are they? Thats more addictive that anything, one breath and you're literally addicted to it for life!!! They should ban it.

What I dont understand is that surely builders and white van men all play games and always have done? They've probably all done coke/heroin too. This kind of nonsense should be in the Daily Mail for my Nan to read, panic about and call me about in the middle of the working day. I am 32.

Who buys the sun for anything other than the tits anyway?

Yes, but what is the Daily Mail? Somewhere in between?

Although I agree that the paper can't be taken seriously. If anyone who has played World of Warcrack, that game is extremely addictive.

I'm with Scottish here. There's so many things I could type about this subject, but preaching to the converted is kinda pointless.
It was an article in The Sun...I feel sorry for Ryan for having to read it in the first place.

soft, strong and absorbent...

Readers of Den of Geek should no better than to call what the News of the World did 'hacking'. Ringing up someone's voicemail and seeing if the password was still set to the default is NOT 'hacking', and thats literally all they did.

It is a minor crime. Breach of privacy is an extremely minor crime. You can commit greater crimes with the informastion, sometimes, but there are already laws against blackmail or extortion.

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