Transcript for Dad and teen both unplug and give up their video games
Reporter: Early morning in Michigan, a scene right out of Josh's video game. A couple of guy comes to the house and gently but firmly hustle him away in the darkness. He knew it was coming. It's just kind of stupid. I just play video games and I have to go to a rehab for it. Reporter: But when the day came, he wasn't ready. Josh was really getting emotional. He goes, "I don't want to go, I'm scared. I want to see my mom." Reporter: Josh is flown to Salt Lake City, and then driven hours away into the Utah wilderness and a program called unplugged at outback therapeutic expeditions. He and a group of other boys will camp for weeks in this rugged terrain. There is no running water, no electricity, no screens. The only thing that glows in the dark, a campfire and the moon. In Ohio, no one is getting on a plane, but Chris and MARIA are hoping for a game-changer. We arrange for a house call. Addiction specialist Nick kardaras. So what are you going to say to him? Well, so my whole purpose is to try to find out where he's at on this whole ownership of his addiction. Does he acknowledge that there's a problem? Reporter: Inside, before Chris decides if he's ready to unplug from his gaming habit, an emotional hug from his oldest children. A reminder of how much they need him. Don't be sad. Reporter: And then a big test. He wants Chris to get the video games out of the house. We could box them up and they could be stored somewhere. Reporter: Chris is at a crossroads. So are you willing to take this opportunity? Not next month. Yeah, I'll -- I'll -- I'll step up. I'll try it. Reporter: Then it's time to pack up Chris' obsession. All right. Here we go. Okay. Reporter: The buckets for children's toys come in handy. I want to go back to when we knew each other better. That's really nice. Reporter: What's wrong with these so-called cyber junkies? Is their extreme behavior a disorder, or just a symptom of something else? That is a subject of heated debate among scientists. Is there really such a thing as digital addiction? I think the answer is unequivocally yes. It impacts a developing brain in exactly the same way substance addiction can. Reporter: Kardaras has written a book called "Glow kids." You have used the term digital heroin. Really? Digital heroin? Is it that bad? Maybe there is some shock value to that. Maybe I am trying to shock some parents awake to say this is a potentially addictive device. Be careful. Reporter: The American psychiatric association's diagnostic manual includes internet gaming disorder as a condition requiring further study. Dr. David Rosenberg is doing just that. Internet addiction clearly exists. But there's always, always an underlying cause or causes. Reporter: The entertainment software association says in a statement, science, research, and common sense all prove that video games are not addictive. But digital addiction is already accepted as a serious issue in some parts of the world. Asia has hundreds of treatment centers. The world health organization is poised to officially classify gaming disorder in its disease manual. Are we late to the party on this? Yes. I think we are late to the party in this. China has had internet addiction disorder as a diagnosable disorder for a few years now. We're not going to be able to help people change their behavior through shame and willpower. Reporter: Software developer Gabe zichermann says apps and games are designed to enthrall. He would know. He says he used to earn a living making them that way. My work in gamification in particular has been used to make just about everything that people use today more addictive and engaging. Reporter: How do they do that, exactly? Every time you challenge yourself to something and then you achieve that thing, your brain secretes a little bit of dopamine. Reporrmann says he and developers like him designed games and apps to purposely activate those jolts of dopamine. But he has since had a change of heart, and career. He has created an app that helps users break the cycle of compulsion. And I'm using the exact techniques that I've used for the last decade to make things more addicting, to help people counteract the addictions they face. It all sound so devious, I kind of picture them twirling their mustaches as we're kind of, we're talking about this. Reporter: Psychology professors Chris Ferguson and Patrick Markey study video gaming and they say it's getting a bad rap. Are all these families just making this up? No, we're not accusing them of lying. Reporter: So if they're not addicted to their video games, you're telling me that this is a moral panic. The question is, is it the video games themselves that's causing the problem or is it something underlying, that's what we can't speak to, we don't know what is going on in these families. Reporter: I don't think parents realize that those games have been manipulated. Well, I mean, I think manipulated -- all we're talking about it is that they're trying to make them more fun, essentially.
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