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Dependent on your point of view

Opinion: Games 'addiction' might not exist - but that's no reason to ignore its 'victims', says Tim Ingham...

As soon as I wake up in the morning, it's the first thing on my mind.

Its steely grip on my existence results in sudden attacks of anxiety, rushes of endorphins and inane, repetitive behaviour patterns.

Every day, I grind through its broken mechanics and flawed level design, primarily to take advantage of its skewed reward system.

I am in its thrall; captivated by its time-release, bird-feeder payment model. It controls every action I execute.

Lord, real life is addictive.

It's also, by turn, boring, maddening, thrilling, intimidating, troubling and, yes, depressing.

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For many of us, video games provide a blessed distraction from the stress, the bedlam and the lack of spice with which your average tax-paying continuance is burdened.

At their most artless, they offer us virtual ammunition to blast away the day's irritations; at their most sophisticated, we get to express and realise the precise emotions and desires our 9-to-5 architecture needlessly prohibits.

For these reasons, it's a medium we adore - and one we fiercely defend. We are the enlightened ones - and our enemies, like all bigots, can be vanquished with the greatest argument of all, exposure. (Something Nintendo, Kinect et al are doing a wonderful job of executing).

Little wonder, then, when a broadcast service as ubiquitous and cherished as the BBC turns its canons on something which brings us such harmless relief, we get more than a little fired up.

The combative title of Panorama's imminent 'expose' of gaming's "hidden psychological devices" doesn't help our ire.

'Addicted to games?' Cripes. Talk about flame bait.

But before we begin torching virtual effigies of Jeremy Vine, perhaps we should give Beeb reporter Raphael Rowe's call for calm its due. And perhaps - just perhaps - we shouldn't brazenly dismiss the possible damage gaming has done to vulnerable lives, simply because it's never brought us anything but joy.

In many ways the most intricate, engrossing genre gaming can offer, MMOs are likely to come under particular fire from Panorama.

They are the ultimate playground for plugging in and tuning out. You can be who you want to be - in accordance with pluralistic, fantastical rules - and experience the never-ending evolution of make-believe. They provide impossible-to-beat entertainment to millions because of it.

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There is absolutely nothing sinister or bizarre about any of this. We live in an interactive age - MMOs' communal, user-enriched experience may yet prove to be this era's greatest contribution to the art of storytelling. Players meet lifelong friends, husbands, wives through these games. They make a lot of 'normal' people very happy.

But let's not allow these plus points to deny another, equally valid truth: They're also a very appealing place for troubled individuals to hide.

People like the 25 year-old mother and 41-year-old father from Korea who allowed their baby to die from malnutrition in March as they were too busy with Prius Online. Or the 33-year-old UK widow who blamed the fact that her dogs starved to death in September on her obsession with an online social game. Or, as Panorama would have it, "the youngsters who've dropped out of school and university to play games for anything up to 21 hours a day".

None of these tragic cases are the fault of skilfully designed interactive entertainment. But there is a reason that they make uncomfortable reading for anyone who considers themselves a 'gamer' - and that's no excuse for us to turn our heads.

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