Interview with Liz Woolley of On-Line Gamers Anonymous

Aug 21st, 2009 | By | Category: Awareness, Features

Liz Woolley, Founder of On-Line Gamers Anonymous, communicated with The Underground Assistant Editor Jason McGill via email about online counseling, defining gaming addiction, and the risks to freshmen of online gaming addiction.

Online Approach

Jason McGill: Please discuss your experience with doing counseling online. What unexpected challenges have you met and overcome?

Liz Woolley: When we started our organization, this was the only venue that would work, because everyone was so spread out. We had to follow what the gamers were doing and were already comfortable with or they would not seek help. We changed the focus of gaming from excessive gaming, to getting back to your real life, and finding fulfillment there.

As far as challenges, sometimes, when a gamer leaves the game, he/she cannot even have a computer in the house, because it is too tempting to use it to feed their cravings. This means they also cannot get to our website for support.

Also, many of the family members reaching out for support have not used the computer because the gamer is on it all the time. They do not know how to navigate on our website, how to post, how to register, etc.

JM: What would you say to someone that has a gaming problem but is skeptical of the effectiveness of support/counseling online?

LW: I would first suggest they go to our website and look at all of the tools offered. Print out what they can use and work them, off-line – in their real life. That is our main goal. Spend more time in your real life. By looking at your real life, and bringing the principles we offer into it, you will have a much better life. Here is a link to our principles: http://www.olganon.org/?q=12_principles_atheists

I also suggest they get a sponsor, and communicate with them by phone. This will also get them off of the computer.

DSV-V in 2012

JM: How do you define clinical game addiction?

LW: We do not use like to use the word addiction. The medical field does not use that term either. We prefer, “problems caused by excessive gaming.” There are huge issues with terms used when it comes to gaming. Some people call it excessive gaming, others say obsessive gaming, others say compulsive gaming, and others use gaming addiction. Do they all mean the same thing?

We tell a person, if they think they have a problem with excessive gaming, they probably do. We also have a screening they can take, to help determine for themselves if they think they have a problem. Here is the link to the screening: http://www.olganon.org/?q=self_tests_on_gaming_addiction

We do not diagnose. This is our mission statement: On-Line Gamers Anonymous is a fellowship of people sharing their experience, strengths and hope to help each other recover and heal from the problems caused by excessive game playing.

JM: Do you support the addition of Internet or Gaming Addiction as a diagnosis in the APA’s DSV-V, slated for release in 2012?

LW: Absolutely. There needs to be more services offered by the professionals to people who are having issues with excessive gaming – be it the gamer or the family member. Also, the professionals all need to get on the same page with this issue, and stop prescribing gaming as a treatment method.

JM: How do you answer those who say formulations of an Internet Addiction diagnosis are too vague or flimsy to be included in the DSV?

LW: There are several issues here. Will the DSV include all uses of the internet of just gaming? Will the “treatment” be different, depending how the patient is abusing their use of the computer?

I prefer to address gaming in particular. Many of the games have been designed to re-wire the brain to get the person addicted to the game so the gaming companies can make more money. The gaming companies spend millions of dollars a year on “research” to try to figure out how to keep the gamer. Are they any better than drug pushers? They have no regard for the well-being of their own customers. They just want to make more money.

I believe more research needs to be done, to show what excessive gaming actually does to a person’s brain. This is your brain on games. They do not make the person better in their real life. I have seen day after day, the affects excessive gaming can have on a person. It is very sad.

Freshmen and Vulnerability

JM: Are new college freshmen more vulnerable to falling into game addiction? Why?

LW: I believe college freshmen are more vulnerable to falling into using games excessively. Gaming is an escape from real life. The first year of college is very trying for the student. This is new to them. This may be their first time away from home. They may not have the discipline to create a schedule and keep it. They may have only played games in their real life up until this time and know how to do little else. They may feel overwhelmed with life as an “adult”. They may be failing some classes. An easy escape is gaming. Supposedly, “it is better than drugs or alcohol”? (I don’t think so…) There is not enough awareness on the college campuses or in the student services to steer students away from gaming.

JM: What are warning signs students and friends should look for?

LW: 1. Unable to predict time spent gaming.

2. Can’t control gaming for an extended period of time.

3. Sense of Euphoria while playing.

4. Craving more game time.

5. Neglecting family and friends.

6. Restless, irritable or discontent when not gaming.

7. Lying about your gaming.

8. Experiencing problems with school or job performance.

9. Feeling guilt, shame, anxiety or depression resulting from gaming.

10. Changing sleep patterns.

11. Health issues: Carpel tunnel, eye strain, weight change, back ache, sore neck, arms

12. Denying, rationalizing and minimizing bad consequences of gaming.

13. Withdrawing from real life hobbies.

14. Eating more and more meals at the computer while gaming.

15. Increased free time surfing game-related websites

16. Constant conversation with uninterested friends/family/partner about the game.

17. Attempts to get friends/family/partner to play

18. Purchasing in-game items for real life money

19. Feeling the need to “stand up for gamers” and proclaim that your life is perfect by listing all of your life’s achievements, and yet you still game for 4-6 hours per day.

JM: What do you recommend colleges do to raise awareness and help their students with game addiction?

LW: I strongly suggest there be a section in the student manual discussing excessive gaming, just as there is about excessive drug and alcohol use. We promote balance in a person’s life. Do ALL things in moderation.

Sending students to our website will help them realize they are not alone. This has happened to THOUSANDS of other people before them. Have a place they can go for help, on the campus, if they have excessive gaming problems.

When other students see someone who is falling into this trap, have a place and procedures for what can be done for that student to help them with their excessive gaming. Excessive gaming can harm your real life.

Liz Woolley, Founder of On-Line Gamers Anonymous, communicated with The Underground Assistant Editor Jason McGill via email about online counseling, defining gaming addiction, and the risks to freshmen of online gaming addiction.

Online Approach

Jason McGill: Please discuss your experience with doing counseling online. What unexpected challenges have you met and overcome?

Liz Woolley: When we started our organization, this was the only venue that would work, because everyone was so spread out. We had to follow what the gamers were doing and were already comfortable with or they would not seek help. We changed the focus of gaming from excessive gaming, to getting back to your real life, and finding fulfillment there.

As far as challenges, sometimes, when a gamer leaves the game, he/she cannot even have a computer in the house, because it is too tempting to use it to feed their cravings. This means they also cannot get to our website for support.

Also, many of the family members reaching out for support have not used the computer because the gamer is on it all the time. They do not know how to navigate on our website, how to post, how to register, etc.

JM: What would you say to someone that has a gaming problem but is skeptical of the effectiveness of support/counseling online?

LW: I would first suggest they go to our website and look at all of the tools offered. Print out what they can use and work them, off-line – in their real life. That is our main goal. Spend more time in your real life. By looking at your real life, and bringing the principles we offer into it, you will have a much better life. Here is a link to our principles: http://www.olganon.org/?q=12_principles_atheists

I also suggest they get a sponsor, and communicate with them by phone. This will also get them off of the computer.

DSV-V in 2012

JM: How do you define clinical game addiction?

LW: We do not use like to use the word addiction. The medical field does not use that term either. We prefer, “problems caused by excessive gaming.” There are huge issues with terms used when it comes to gaming. Some people call it excessive gaming, others say obsessive gaming, others say compulsive gaming, and others use gaming addiction. Do they all mean the same thing?

We tell a person, if they think they have a problem with excessive gaming, they probably do. We also have a screening they can take, to help determine for themselves if they think they have a problem. Here is the link to the screening: http://www.olganon.org/?q=self_tests_on_gaming_addiction

We do not diagnose. This is our mission statement: On-Line Gamers Anonymous is a fellowship of people sharing their experience, strengths and hope to help each other recover and heal from the problems caused by excessive game playing.

JM: Do you support the addition of Internet or Gaming Addiction as a diagnosis in the APA’s DSV-V, slated for release in 2012?

LW: Absolutely. There needs to be more services offered by the professionals to people who are having issues with excessive gaming – be it the gamer or the family member. Also, the professionals all need to get on the same page with this issue, and stop prescribing gaming as a treatment method.

JM: How do you answer those who say formulations of an Internet Addiction diagnosis are too vague or flimsy to be included in the DSV?

LW: There are several issues here. Will the DSV include all uses of the internet of just gaming? Will the “treatment” be different, depending how the patient is abusing their use of the computer?

I prefer to address gaming in particular. Many of the games have been designed to re-wire the brain to get the person addicted to the game so the gaming companies can make more money. The gaming companies spend millions of dollars a year on “research” to try to figure out how to keep the gamer. Are they any better than drug pushers? They have no regard for the well-being of their own customers. They just want to make more money.

I believe more research needs to be done, to show what excessive gaming actually does to a person’s brain. This is your brain on games. They do not make the person better in their real life. I have seen day after day, the affects excessive gaming can have on a person. It is very sad.

Freshmen and Vulnerability

JM: Are new college freshmen more vulnerable to falling into game addiction? Why?

LW: I believe college freshmen are more vulnerable to falling into using games excessively. Gaming is an escape from real life. The first year of college is very trying for the student. This is new to them. This may be their first time away from home. They may not have the discipline to create a schedule and keep it. They may have only played games in their real life up until this time and know how to do little else. They may feel overwhelmed with life as an “adult”. They may be failing some classes. An easy escape is gaming. Supposedly, “it is better than drugs or alcohol”? (I don’t think so…) There is not enough awareness on the college campuses or in the student services to steer students away from gaming.

JM: What are warning signs students and friends should look for?

LW: 1. Unable to predict time spent gaming.

2. Can’t control gaming for an extended period of time.

3. Sense of Euphoria while playing.

4. Craving more game time.

5. Neglecting family and friends.

6. Restless, irritable or discontent when not gaming.

7. Lying about your gaming.

8. Experiencing problems with school or job performance.

9. Feeling guilt, shame, anxiety or depression resulting from gaming.

10. Changing sleep patterns.

11. Health issues: Carpel tunnel, eye strain, weight change, back ache, sore neck, arms

12. Denying, rationalizing and minimizing bad consequences of gaming.

13. Withdrawing from real life hobbies.

14. Eating more and more meals at the computer while gaming.

15. Increased free time surfing game-related websites

16. Constant conversation with uninterested friends/family/partner about the game.

17. Attempts to get friends/family/partner to play

18. Purchasing in-game items for real life money

19. Feeling the need to “stand up for gamers” and proclaim that your life is perfect by listing all of your life’s achievements, and yet you still game for 4-6 hours per day.

JM: What do you recommend colleges do to raise awareness and help their students with game addiction?

LW: I strongly suggest there be a section in the student manual discussing excessive gaming, just as there is about excessive drug and alcohol use. We promote balance in a person’s life. Do ALL things in moderation.

Sending students to our website will help them realize they are not alone. This has happened to THOUSANDS of other people before them. Have a place they can go for help, on the campus, if they have excessive gaming problems.

When other students see someone who is falling into this trap, have a place and procedures for what can be done for that student to help them with their excessive gaming. Excessive gaming can harm your real life!

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