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Published September 02, 2010, 12:00 AM

Local help for game addictions hard to find

Twelve to 16 hours a day, up to three computers at a time, using between five and seven Facebook accounts – all to take part in a competitive cyber world of mafia crime.

Twelve to 16 hours a day, up to three computers at a time, using between five and seven Facebook accounts – all to take part in a competitive cyber world of mafia crime.

Michael Polomny testified in Clay County court this week that an online game on Facebook, known as “Mafia Wars,” gradually took over his life.

His addiction took away from time spent at work and strained relationships with his family, eventually spurring a fight that led to a charge against him of domestic assault. He was found not guilty in a Clay County trial that ended Wednesday.

Polomny’s situation shines light on a developing problem in a digital age: addictions to the Internet and online social-network gaming.

Some research and treatment centers have been set up across the nation to aid in combating Internet addictions. But no such center of expertise exists in the Red River Valley, area health providers said.

Polomny said in court that he had difficulty finding counseling for his Internet addiction.

Treatments are available locally for addiction, but the specific area of Internet addiction remains a relatively new specialty, said Dawn Hoffner, community liaison department director at Prairie St. John’s in Fargo.

“Like all things, it takes time for services to catch up with what the need might be,” Hoffner said.

In five years of counseling at The Village Family Service Center in Fargo, John Lyon said he’s dealt with only one instance of someone seeking help for an online gaming addiction – a man who said he was addicted to “World of Warcraft.”

“It was basically ruining his relationship with his fiancée – he was spending more time doing that than spending time with her,” said Lyon, a therapist and licensed independent clinical social worker.

In general, an addiction can develop when an indulgence begins to interfere with important life activities, Lyon said.

“When you’re not able to spend time with your wife and kids because you’re busy making sure that all your cucumber crops are coming in – that’s a problem,” Lyon said, referring to the popular Facebook game “Farmville.” He added that people with addictions tend to use the specific act to fill a need in their life.

“People do a behavior for a reason,” he said. “It makes sense to them.”

In Polomny’s case, the ex-North Dakota Highway Patrol trooper testified in court on Wednesday that he thinks his yearlong “Mafia Wars” addiction was driven by a dearth of competition in his life.

The 40-year-old, a former star basketball player at Minnesota State University Moorhead, said he was a competitive person. But as the sole breadwinner with six children at home, he felt he no longer had time to compete in sports.

Even though he played “Mafia Wars” as much as two-thirds of the day, including while on duty as a trooper, he didn’t realize it was consuming him.

“I really believed I didn’t have a problem at that time,” he said.


Forum reporter Dave Roepke contributed to this report.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541

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