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Therapist Claims Video Games Are Like Cocaine, Is Lambasted By Media

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Update: It appears that the interview in question may not be attributable to BBC Radio. As our intrepid reader cerberus635 pointed out, the quotes that allegedly come from a BBC interview can be found in and attributed to this article from the Lancashire Evening Post. While the post article, like the supposed BBC broadcast, offers some "alarming numbers" without attributing them to anything but "experts", it does at least offer one moderate, sensible opinion from someone with honest-to-goodness expert credentials:

Gayle Brewer, senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Central Lancashire, said: "Parents are fearful of allowing their children to play outside and feel that if they are inside where they can see them playing computer games, then they are safe.

"A computer game can seem like a quick way of occupying your child and because it is such a high intensity pastime, it keeps them stimulated and they are unlikely to get bored.

"It is important to find a balance. It is easier for parents if they set ground rules from the start about how long their child is allowed to spend on these types of games."

The original article continues below:

In an interview with BBC Radio 5, UK therapist Steve Pope made some absolutely ridiculous claims about video gaming that, rather than paraphrasing, I'll just repeat for you below. Please note: If any of our readers can find the original BBC broadcast on line, please let us know either in the comments section or by emailing me. It does not appear to be posted on the Radio 5 website at this time.

From MCV, who called Mr. Pope's claims "shocking" and "bewildering":

"Spending two hours on a game station is equivalent to taking a line of cocaine in the high it produces in the brain," Pope told BBC Radio 5Live in an interview last night. "It's the silent killer of our generation."

Time points out some recent evidence that demonstrate the health and social benefits of video games, but:

Don't tell that to Pope, who alleges "computer game addiction can also spiral into violence," believes gamers may "turn their fantasy games into reality," and encourages parents to "go upstairs to [their] kids' bedroom and try and take the game station controller out of their hands."

Maybe it's time to take the microphone out of Pope's.

Might I emphasize: "game station controller". To editorialize for a moment: To someone who has been playing video games for almost a quarter century now, that sounds an awful lot like experts who talk about the dark side of "marijuana cigarettes" and "homosexual agendas."

But wait! There's more:

Destructoid (and if you want to know what they think about Mr. Pope, just check out the shamefully hilarious banner image for their article) expands on the previous quotes with this (emphasis mine):

"We're now onto second generation game station players who have always grown up with it," [Pope] added. "Computer game addiction can also spiral into violence -- as after playing violent games, they may turn their fantasy games into reality. It is the fastest growing addiction in the country and this is affecting young people mentally and physically"

So, let's take a moment here to examine Mr. Pope's claims,after the jump.


Two hours of gaming is like snorting a line of coke. Strong claims require strong evidence. Hopefully, in the original broadcast, Mr. Pope indicated where this statement is proven in peer-reviewed literature; if he did not, he must in order for this claim to be considered valid. One assumes that Mr. Pope is referring to the inhibition of synaptic dopamine re-uptake into the brain that is associated with cocaine use. In layman's terms: Cocaine saturates your brain with a happy chemical. But, dopamine is normally released by the brain when human beings perform pleasurable activities. Presumably, someone playing a video game for two hours does so because it pleases that person to do so. This is normal. No harmful or illegal chemicals have been ingested to trick one's brain in to thinking one is happy. Happily playing for two hours is bound to result in a dopamine release. As I mentioned in a previous article, physical activity can also result in powerful releases of dopamine. Should we stop people from jogging?

After all, cocaine is dangerous because it prevents the brain from being able to do what it should do naturally: Absorb and release dopamine. Playing video games, like playing football, playing in a sand box, or playing in the water, does not. If Mr. Pope has peer-reviewed, published evidence to the contrary he should present it.

Gaming can lead to violence. I have very recently blathered on at length about this claim. At the very least, the jury's out on that one. Much of the research out there is problematic and contradictory. Some of it points out mental health benefits to gaming.

Once again, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Speaking of which:

Video games are the "silent killer" of our generation. What? Hopefully that statement is explained fully in the original recording of the interview because, well...what? Frankly, statements like these are usually thrown around by people looking for headlines. Mission accomplished, I guess.

Gamers will turn their video game fantasy in to reality. Okay, you've got a point there.

Kidding aside, from the context of his statement, it appears Mr. Pope means that gamers will try to turn their violent, socially maladjusted fantasies into reality. In that case, this belongs under the "gaming can lead to violence" claim which, as we've noted, is not a consensus within the peer-reviewed literature.

On a more abstract level, we might assume that Mr. Pope is insinuating that video gaming can lead to psychosis. I'm not going to go there because I would be assuming, and as any good therapist would know, assuming what people are thinking is tantamount to believing you can read minds. Besides, I am certainly not aware of any research that suggests that video games lead to psychosis.

There is such a thing as computer game addiction. The word "addiction" has been appropriated from a context where it clearly belongs (cocaine, alcohol, cigarettes, etc.) and applied to many contexts in which the word is extremely controversial (sex addiction, food addiction, shopping addiction, video game addiction). In the former category, "addiction" makes sense. After enough time and use, people's bodies cannot function without the chemical to which they are addicted. The same cannot be said for the latter category. No "sex addict" coming off her or his "drug" has ever died from convulsions or choked on their own vomit the way alcohol addicts do every year - because their bodies have been dangerously changed by their addiction. Video games, like food, sex, and more traditional forms of play, take advantage of people's brain chemistry - they do not throw a wrench in the works.

I know I'm blurring a distinction some people make between "addiction" and "dependency", but I believe the only reason that distinction exists nowadays is that the word "addiction" has been inappropriately applied to other circumstances. And I'm not the only one who believes that.

It is my contention that Mr. Pope is incorrectly labeling some gamers' inability to regulate their compulsive behaviour as addiction. Playing, like eating behaviour or sexual behaviour, is healthy - not damaging - unless that key component of impaired behavioural regulation is added. The same cannot be said for many narcotics, which overwhelm an otherwise-healthy person's ability to regulate their own behaviour.

So unless Mr. Pope can provide the world with some previously-unknown, groundbreaking, rock-solid research to back up his claims, I'm going to side with all the other commenters who have suggested (often in less-than-polite terms) that Mr. Pope is tilting at windmills.

[image via: freedigitalphotos.net]

3 Comments

VoiceOfGosh said:

An excellent analysis of yet another crackpot! This article was a great read. This guy doesn't have information to back this up and is totally just making assumptions like so many dithering and unaware mothers do. Scare tactics may work on worried parents, but we know it's all just talk.


After all, I've been playing Pokemon for over half my life and I have yet to start my own cock fighting ring. :P

cerberus635 said:

Personally I think MCV may have made this one up.

The BBC are excellent at keeping records and archives. Infact, you can listen to everything that was aired on Radio 5 live on iPlayer for the entire week http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/radio/bbc_radio_five_live/20110309

Googling BBC and Steve Pope brings up nothing from the BBC... only all the gaming sites that picked this story up. Plus I've had a brief look at everything on Wednesday on Radio 5. There were indeed 2 stories on 2 seperate shows about video games, in relation to kids being tired in school due to them, and a school teacher was interviewed and parents. Steve Pope wasn't though, and there was no mention of it being akin to cocaine.

Maybe I'm missing something though... who knows.

cerberus635 said:

I'm back...

This is the original source of the story. http://www.lep.co.uk/lifestyle/gaming_addiction_grips_youngsters_1_773488

It's an article in the Lancashire Evening post newspaper (just a small regional paper) and it is from almost a whole year ago. Nothing to do with BBC radio 5 or the BBC in general at all, MCV made that bit up, probably to make it sound more legit.


This is why I don't read newspapers or online news blogs usually (apart from here of course for gaming stuff hehe)
Everyone picks up on everyone else's stories and it's very hard to find the actual source, and often things get 'tweaked' a little on the way... like global chinese whispers.

Very well written regardless though, and your points still stand =)

And girls who like girls who like rumble packs!

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cerberus635 on Therapist Claims Video Games Are Like Cocaine, Is Lambasted By Media: I'm back... This is the original source of the story. http://www.lep.co.uk/lifestyle/gaming_addiction_grips_youngsters_1_773488 It's an article in the Lancashire Evening post newspaper...

cerberus635 on Therapist Claims Video Games Are Like Cocaine, Is Lambasted By Media: Personally I think MCV may have made this one up. The BBC are excellent at keeping records and archives. Infact,...

VoiceOfGosh on Therapist Claims Video Games Are Like Cocaine, Is Lambasted By Media: An excellent analysis of yet another crackpot! This article was a great read. This guy doesn't have information to back...

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