Online Gaming Isn't Just Child's Play

To her son Josh, she's just Mom. In the small Arkansas town where she lives, she's Kay. But it took years for Kay Johnson to admit who she really is, CBS News science and technology correspondent Daniel Sieberg reports.

"A recovering addict," Johnson said. "I'm a former gaming addict."

She's not talking about gambling, but an addiction to computer games. For nearly four years, Johnson immersed herself in a never-ending online adventure game called Final Fantasy. In it, players battle creatures, go on quests and socialize with others. For Kay, it was all so alluring that she shut out the real world as her Internet addiction took over.

"My children would come up to talk to me and I'd say, 'wait, wait, Mom's busy. I'll be done in a minute … just give Mommy another minute,'" Johnson said.

These minutes became hours as she played day and night.

"It was my world. It was everything that was anything to me," she said. "My kids, I loved them and I would be there for them, but this is where all my time went."

That was a problem, considering she has two teenage boys, one with special needs. Johnson was playing online around 50 hours a week — but incredibly, her husband was playing even more.

"I had seen the side of my husband's face and the back of his head probably more than I've seen his face during most of our marriage, because he was sitting at the computer," she said.


Her husband declined to be interviewed on camera but acknowledged both of them were obsessed by the game. She says they were so obsessed they both stopped working, sending their finances into a tailspin.

"We would take the credit cards and pay the electric light, the groceries and the rent — and, of course, that adds up to a lot of money," she said.

Johnson's case is extreme. Sieberg says he's among the millions play who play and don't get addicted. Even so, many games now come with a warning, reminding players to "have a life." In fact, Internet addiction may soon become an official psychiatric diagnosis.

"It turns out that Internet addiction can be almost identical to other forms of chemical addictions," said Dr. Eric Hollander of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

Hollander treats impulsive behavior, and says that some people's brains are simply wired in a way that makes them vulnerable to addiction. Whether it's alcohol, cocaine or even the computer, quitting causes withdrawal.

"They can experience all kinds of uncomfortable physical sensations when they try to cut back on their Internet use," Hollander said.

He prescribes counseling and sometimes anti-depressants like Lexapro, mood stabilizers like lithium and opiate blockers like Naltrexone. But Johnson quit cold turkey — and took her anger out on the game.

She took the gaming disks and … "I crushed them!" she said.

Johnson has decided to file for divorce, and is determined to remain "game free." She also wants to send a message that even what looks like child's play must be taken in adult moderation.

  • Christine Lagorio

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