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Go to Amsterdam to Kick the (Video Game) Habit

Amsterdam's Smith & Jones Wild Horses Center is an addiction treatment facility that caters to patients dealing coping with a variety of substances and activities: cocaine, gambling, alcohol--and now video gaming. Last year, the center started to notice that some of its patience admitted for various addictions also mentioned compulsive gaming behavior. Compulsive gamers seemed to display similar symptoms and withdrawal effects as those with chemical dependencies. Next month, the center will be opening what it claims is Europe's first dedicated clinic for video game addiction, using the traditional 12 Step Program for addiction.

"Computer and video games can be fun and innocent," reads the clinic's site. "Most people can play computer games without trouble. However, 20% of all gamers can develop a dependency on gaming. Many of these individuals have neglected family, romance, school, and jobs; not to mention their basic needs such as food and personal hygiene--all for a video or computer game."

BBC News spoke with center director Keith Bakker about the growing phenomenon and the treatment program. "You can't do a urine test to see that they're not still gaming. And if a coke addict said they wanted to go out to a club or to see people, we'd be worried about whether they'd meet a dealer," said Bakker. "But if a gamer said he wanted to go out for the night and meet people we'd throw a party."

Bakker was insistent about the potential severity of such addictions. "There were 15 year olds being brought to us who were showing the same behaviour as 50-year-old gambling addicts," he said. "This can get totally out of control. These games can be designed to keep the players going, there's no pay-off, it's like climbing a mountain with no top. They're not in their rooms playing games about collecting flowers. They're up there for 18 hours a day playing computer games about killing people."