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The latest senseless attack on games, from the man behind 'Facebook causes Cancer'

'Games as addictive as Heroin' warns UK's The Sun

Random attacks on games are as regular in British tabloids as astrology columns, but today's misguided nonsense in The Sun is as offensive as any.

'GAMING AS ADDICTIVE AS HEROIN' the headline reads, and as with many assaults on the medium, it's not exactly a demanding job to notice the distortion and falsehood.

The article kicks off with the assertion that "Britain is in the grip of a gaming addiction which poses as big a health risk as alcohol and drug abuse." Which is, at best, a ridiculous claim.

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The key evidence in the article is supplied by One Dr. Aric Sigman, author of popular science books and frequent contributor to tabloid investigations.

Unsurprisingly, Sigman is notorious for cherry-picking selective references from scientific literature to support his agenda. The doctor has even admitted as much on his own website, claiming that this is in order to facilitate the "intent of the article" and to "redress an existing imbalance" in general perception.

For reference, Sigman's research has in the past provided the base of articles such as how using Facebook could give you cancer, how putting your baby in nursery could risk heart disease, how computers "dull" children's brains and how movies like Batman can turn our children into violent beasts.

(Those are just the ones we could find, since some have mysteriously been erased from Google following a data protection request).

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In The Sun piece, the doctor specifically highlights how games and heroin both trigger dopamine, a brain chemical and popular tabloid stereotype used to link any pleasurable experience to sex, drugs and general debauchery. Basically, it's a great way of making your gossip column sound science-y.

For example, the same publication has in the past used dopamine as the basis for its article 'Are cupcakes as addictive as cocaine?' (alongside a picture of "cupcake fan" Katy Perry).

But as you'd imagine, it's a bit more complicated than that. As pointed out by behavioural neuroscience writer Bethany Brookshire, dopamine isn't just a "pleasure chemical". It contributes to a wide range of brain activity, from kidney and heart function, to body movement, to nausea, to attention, to breast milk production and yes, even addiction.

The effects of dopamine also depend on where in the brain it's coming from, where the receiving neurons are going and what type of neurons they are, what receptors are binding the dopamine (there are five known types), and what role both the releasing and receiving neurons are playing.

Again, complicated.

Regardless, publications have occasionally used the mere presence of dopamine to link one activity directly to another, whether it's The Sun's aforementioned cupcake expose, or even a Forbes piece claiming it's the cause of American gun addiction.

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Elsewhere, The Sun cites the sad story of a two British teenagers who committed suicide, which caused a coroner to raise concern that the pair were among the 40 million people who play Call of Duty every month.

It then mentions a "spate of gaming-related deaths" and lists six specific cases, none of which were directly or indisputably linked to video games.

Of course there's nothing wrong with cross-examining games to ensure they are safe for the public to use. But it's a shame that so many tabloids don't rely on useful information such as statistics (what percentage of the 40 million monthly Call of Duty gamers go on killing sprees, for example?) but instead highlight a handful of extraordinary cases and present that as a trend.

"There's nothing wrong with cross-examining games to ensure they are safe for the public"

The Sun article even implies the problem is so widespread that it ought to carry a questionnaire with the headline: "Are YOU addicted?"

The overall article gives the impression that, like has been suggested with attacks in the past, it's the result of senior editorial figures pushing the agenda. Like with most UK newspapers, headlines at The Sun are usually written by a senior member of the team, be it a sub-editor, a page editor, an experienced reporter or the editor of the day.

Many journalists CVG has spoken to in the past suggest that, sadly, it's commonly this collective of senior staff - the ones who form the voice of each publication - who distrust games and continue to spin negative stories such as this.

And certainly the author of this particular Sun piece seems to be a genuine advocate of gaming who has contributed to industry charities in the past.

Last year CVG's Rob Crossley published a fantastic and detailed investigation into Why Newspapers Hate Video Games that should go some way in explaining the situation.

Give it a read and let us know what you think in the comments below.

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