MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, for the first time the Super Bowl teams are led by black coaches. What does it mean? We will talk with the first black quarterback to win the Super Bowl

BRAND: Well, first we delve into the world of fantasy games. Alex, have you ever heard of the online computer games: "World of Warcraft," "Everquest" or "Guild Wars?"

CHADWICK: I know about "World of Warcraft," I've at least read about it. These are fantasy word games, writing players. You pay a subscription fee to get in these and battle with each other online.

BRAND: That's right. That's right. Yeah. And a lot of people get hooked. In just two years, the number of people playing "World of Warcraft" has gone from about 1.5 million to 8 million people. And some of them could even be addicted, like a drug addiction.

Sara Lerner from member station KUOW talked to one player.

Mr. AARON STOCKTOL(ph) (Computer Games Fanatic): I mean that was just a life destroying habit. That's all it was. And like many other kinds of drugs that you can get addicted to.

SARA LERNER: Aaron Stocktol talks to me in his bare one-bedroom apartment.

Mr. STOCKTOL: I excused the fact that I've spent huge amounts of money, you know, that I shirked all of my responsibilities and didn't think anything bad of it, till reality creeps up and slaps you on the face.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LERNER: Reality in his case was when his partner left him with their three daughters. Aaron had been spending 60 to 80 hours a week, playing "Everquest," an MMO-RPG that is a massively multi-player online role-playing game. In games like these, players kill monsters to get rewards and move up to higher levels in the game's fantasy universe. For some, that challenge is addictive.

Dr. HILLARY CASH(ph) (Owner, Video Game Addiction Clinic): All addictions have certain characteristics.

LERNER: Doctor Hillary Cash, have studied the negative effects of these games.

Dr. CASH: Compulsivity, that sense of being out of control and unable to manage your behavior; the sense of relief or a high; and also, there's the development of tolerance. So really all addictions are that way and video-game addiction is no different from that.

LERNER: Dr. Cash's research led her to open an online computer addiction clinic. Her clients, who have stories like Aaron, say they can go for 12-hour periods, or even days, where they do nothing but play "World of Warcraft." They lose jobs and fail in school.

Mr. STOCKTOL: I, you know, sit at home, play "Everquest," ignore everything around me. I mean the kids would sometimes come in, you know, sit them on my lap, and I guess you can say I dangle them on my knees. And after about 15 minutes of that it was get lost.

LERNER: So what really sets MMO-RPGs apart from other video games is the social aspect. People talk to each other through voice chat, while they raid. And after a five-hour rigorous battle, they might make new albeit it cyber friendships.

Mr. STOCKTOL: It's an escapism. It allows you to - I can't deal with real life, but within this game I can be the best of the best.

LERNER: Aaron says he's lucky. He was able to kick his habit, because he had a good friend in the same boat.

Mr. STOCKTOL: After we both stopped playing, we both uninstalled the game from our computers. We went through the process of figuring out how to rebuild our lives at that point, in essence.

LERNER: Together they made up their own rehabilitation plan. It included walking a lot and avoiding home and the lure of the computer. Aaron lost 100 pounds. And now, he hopes other addicts, but he didn't get his family back. In her clinic, Dr. Cash helps people like Aaron. She applies the 12-step recovery program that alcoholics use to treat people who are addicted to MMO-RPGs, like "Everquest" and "World of Warcraft."

Dr. CASH: This is all very new and once time has passed, a couple decades, people's awareness about the dark side of computers and the Internet will be generally known and people will be much better prepared to deal with it.

LERNER: Dr. Cash wants this addiction to become a recognized mental health disorder, so employers and insurance companies will acknowledge it. Then more gamers would take it seriously and more people would get help. As for Aaron, he plays "World of Warcraft."

(Soundbite of computer game, "World of Warcraft")

Unidentified Man #1: Stop bringing once every year.

Unidentified Man #2: Why is that?

LERNER: But on his trip schedule, he never played more than 20 hours a week. And more importantly, he doesn't play at all if he's got other pressing duties, like work or family.

Mr. STOCKTOL: The age-old axiom, all things in moderation.

LERNER: For NPR News, I'm Sara Lerner.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: There's more to come on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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