LONDON – Michael Phelps is at "high risk" of developing a dangerous and potentially destructive addiction to online video games after admitting he has been playing Call of Duty for up to 30 hours per week.
Phelps revealed in a recent interview with ThePostGame.com that much of his free time is taken up with the hugely popular war-based simulation where characters attempt to complete increasingly difficult missions by shooting enemy forces.
That prompted Liz Woolley, founder of Online Gamers Anonymous, to warn the swimming superstar about the pitfalls of spending too much time in front of the screen in role-playing mode.
"Any time you get up to more than a couple of hours per day regularly, it can start to interfere with your normal life, your job, your family, your friends and your social life," Woolley said.
"But it can be even more dangerous for people like [Phelps] who are highly driven and competitive, which of course elite athletes and swimmers have to be. The games can be used as an escape from the pressures of training or competition, but it has to be moderated carefully or it can have terrible repercussions.
"A lot of the people who have the worst problems with this addiction are very high achievers. A successful, motivated individual, combined with a high number of playing hours, and you go 'Whoa, that could be high risk.' "
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Phelps has often told how he struggled for motivation following his extraordinary eight gold medal haul in Beijing four years ago. He is gunning for seven this time around, but faces tough competition from in-form fellow American Ryan Lochte once events get underway July 28.
For a while at least, his video game hobby will need to be placed on pause.
"I really only play Xbox," Phelps said. "I have been playing a lot of Call of Duty recently. I find myself playing like 30 hours per week. People don't know it's [me]. I just get crushed. I always find myself getting heated, trash talking. And you know it is a 10-year-old kid on the other line that just demolished me. It is so frustrating. But it is fun, I am very competitive in everything I do."
Video game addiction does not generate anywhere near the level of publicity as alcohol or drug-related problems, but Woolley insists it is just as big a concern and will spin out of control if proper treatment programs are not put in place.
She started Online Gamers Anonymous 10 years ago after her son Shawn, who had become deeply addicted to gaming, committed suicide. Liz Woolley claims video game companies employs psychologists to devise "hooks" in games that lead to addiction.
Studies conducted at London's Hammersmith Hospital in 2005 found that dopamine levels in players' brains doubled while competing in video games, which officially makes the games chemically addictive.
According to video-game-addition.org addiction to games such as Call of Duty, with its life-like game pattern and graphic violence, can have a negative impact on personal relationships. Other symptoms reported by addicts include carpal tunnel syndrome, migraines, sleep disturbances, backaches and eating irregularities.
The Entertainment Software Rating Board mentions blood and gore, violence, drug references and strong language in its ratings for Call of Duty.
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