Forget weed, booze and cigarettes – computer games are the most popular drug among young males today and, some would argue, the most addictive.Since ID Software released their first three-dimensional shoot-’em-up in1992, teenagers have been up all hours of the night slaughtering Nazis in
, then demons in
, and pretty much everything else since – these days, online, they shoot at each other. But in a computer game, of course, you don’t
take over the world, or marry the beautiful princess,or suppress the terrorist bomb threat. You don’t even get a friendlyhandshake to say,
. So what’s the big deal?“Computer games let you do things you normally couldn’t do,”explains Tim, as he commences another round of counter-terrorism. “Youcan fire guns, throw grenades, plant bombs…” – and, sure enough, it’s allright there on the screen, in stunningly realistic, highly detailed graphics.However, watching Tim himself, it’s painfully obvious that he isn’t actuallydoing
– he’s just sitting in his chair, hair still messed up from sleep,staring at a screen while frantically clicking his mouse, his speakersdrumming out loud and very realistic bullet sounds as he does so. In thenear-blackness of his bedroom, it strikes me as even somewhat surreal.So, how often does he do this?“I don’t know how much time,” he admits, standing on a balcony witha sniper rifle, “but basically, when I’m at home, I’m online.”This – “Internet addiction disorder”, as one sociologist calls it – is rapidly becoming recognized as one of the major social problems of the twenty-firstcentury. The problem isn’t getting people
to the Net anymore – it’s getting them
connected. According to a 2002 survey, 94% of Australian teenagers use the Internet, 39% of which use it predominantly for online gaming – at the expense of their studies, their social life and their physical health. Yet online gaming is just one example of “Internet addictiondisorder” – even more potent, particularly for female users, is online chat.Go back 24 hours and I’m talking about this with Hakon Andersson, asecond-year Information Systems student at Melbourne University. Sittingopposite me, unshaven and dressed in earthy colours, he doesn’t give theimpression of being much of a technohead, but, being one of the fewAustralians to adopt the Net in the early 1990s, he has observed many of thechanges that have taken place both in and as a result of the medium. As wesit in a cafeteria near Melbourne University’s I.T. faculty, he makes someinteresting and revealing observations.