A DUTCH clinic that has begun offering the world's
first treatment for computer game addicts has been
overwhelmed with pleas for help from parents and children
all over the world, writes Matthew Campbell.
"It's amazing, I've never seen anything like it," said
Keith Bakker, the American director of the Smith & Jones
clinic in Amsterdam. "The phone has been ringing
constantly. Computer game addiction is obviously an even
greater problem than we imagined."
In a 16th-century building on one of Amsterdam's
canals, the clinic will begin treating two teenagers from
Britain this week and other sufferers are being signed in
from America and Asia.
"These are perfectly decent kids whose lives have been
taken over by an addiction," said Bakker, a former drug
"Some have given up school so they can play games. They
have no friends. They don't speak to their parents."
Last week Bakker took his first group of "gamers", as
he calls them, on a parachuting trip to take their minds
of their computers. Treatment also involves meditation,
fitness training and group therapy. It is supervised by
what Bakker called "some of the top addiction specialists
in the world".
Although experts are still debating whether excessive
game playing counts as an addiction, Bakker has no doubt
that the symptoms are the same.
"If we see a car burning outside, we don't sit around
wondering what to call it," he said.
"It is not a chemical dependency, but it's got
everything of an obsessive compulsive disorder and all of
the other stuff that comes with chemical dependency."
Tim, a 21-year-old from Utrecht, said he had hardly
left his bedroom for five years because he was so obsessed
by his computer games. "My room was a mess," he said.
"Curtains drawn, pizza boxes, empty bottles and junk food
wrappers everywhere . . . I didn't even get up to use the
bathroom but peed in a bottle while I kept playing."
His parents were frightened of him because, weighing
more than 21 stone, he was too strong for them to
confront. Eventually they threatened to kick him out
unless he enrolled for a month of therapy.
Bakker said he had been hearing horror stories from
parents about their children's addiction to computer
games. One couple brought a six-year-old to the clinic,
hoping the boy could be treated.
"All we could do was have a chat with him," said Bakker.
"He used to be a perfectly healthy kid but they gave him a
Nintendo and he changed. He doesn't talk to his friends
Many adolescent addicts have stopped maturing because
of their addiction, claims Bakker.
"I've met 19-year-olds with the emotional intelligence
of 10-year-olds," he said, "because when they were 10 a
parent said ‘Here, have this Game Boy', and they haven't
stopped playing ever since."
South Korea and China, where people are particularly
passionate about computer games, are discussing with
manufacturers ways of discouraging compulsive behaviour.
Bakker thinks that European and American distributors
should issue warnings about the dangers.
A 28-year-old South Korean died of heart failure last
year after playing a computer game for 50 hours at an
internet cafe. The family of a Chinese teenager who killed
himself after playing a game for 36 hours is suing the
The problem is certain to grow. Many of the most
addictive games are played on the internet with multiple
participants. According to market research, the online
market is expected to grow from £1.8 billion last year to
£9 billion by 2011.