The emotional side of drug abuse is all too often overlooked. Drug addicts are typically dehumanised, portrayed as skanky monsters, as losers, or wasters. A drain on society. Indeed, there's a good reason for that: addicts are a nightmare. Potentially, they're a disruptive element in society, the more serious addicts are willing to say anything, and do anything, to get their next fix. Long-term drug addicts stay stuck, emotionally, at the age they were when they started using.
However, what this tends to overlook is the emotional damage that not only creates an addict in the first place, but which keeps them trapped in their addiction. However, there's a school of wisdom that's gaining traction, which suggest that if you improve an addict's environment, and offer them social connections, you potentially break their addiction cycle.
Early experiments with addictive substances in the 1960s would place rats alone in cages, and give them a choice of plain water, or water laced with heroin or cocaine. Ninety percenty of the rats would choose the drugged-up water, and keep choosing it until they overdosed and died.
However, in the 1970s, a Canadian professor of psychology called Bruce Alexander tried a different approach. Instead of the bare, basic cage containing just one rat - he gave rats a luxury, shared habitat called "Rat Park". It offered mental stimulation in the form of coloured balls and tunnels, and he fed them the best quality food. Less than a quarter of the rats in Rat Park opted for the drug-laced water.
The rats who went from a depressing, isolated cage to Rat Park would - after some initial symptoms of withdrawal - return to a normal, drug-free, existance.
Heroin is a painkiller - indeed, a form of it is used in hospitals as exactly that. It can numb not only physical pain and discomfort, but emotional distress too.
Yet, how many hospital patients seek out heroin once they leave?
More or less none of them - even after months of being administered the drug, when popular opinion would have it that they should've developed an all-consuming habit.
During the Vietnam war, an estimated 20 percent of US troops were addicted to heroin. Once they returned home - once they were out of that Hellish warzone - a reported 95 percent of them simply stopped using.
So, what's that all about... and what does it have to do with video games?
In his book Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, the author Johann Hari argues that human beings - just like rats - have a profound need to bond and form connections.
If no human contact is available, we'll instead attempt to form that bond with whatever we have to hand.
Street drug addicts, he states, are as isolated as the rats in the first cage were (though arguably, many drug addicts also get a sense of community from their addiction - being surrounded, at times, with other like-minded users, which also gives them a reason to stay addicted).
With no alternative on offer, they simply keep using. Even when in what might otherwise be a healthy relationship, drug abuse itself can isolate people further from those around them, leading to a spiral of addiction from which it is virtually impossible to break.
Talking about his book, Hari wrote: "This has huge implications for the one-hundred-year-old war on drugs. This massive war - which, as I saw, kills people from the malls of Mexico to the streets of Liverpool - is based on the claim that we need to physically eradicate a whole array of chemicals because they hijack people’s brains and cause addiction.
"But if drugs aren’t the driver of addiction - if, in fact, it is disconnection that drives addiction - then this makes no sense. Ironically, the war on drugs actually increases all those larger drivers of addiction.
"I went to a prison in Arizona where inmates are detained in tiny stone isolation cages for weeks and weeks on end to punish them for drug use. It is as close to a human recreation of the cages that guaranteed deadly addiction in rats as I can imagine. And when those prisoners get out, they will be unemployable because of their criminal record — guaranteeing they with be cut off even more."
He goes on to add: "Human beings are bonding animals. We need to connect and love... we have created an environment and a culture that cut us off from connection, or offers only a parody of it (in the form of) the Internet.
"The rise of addiction is a symptom of a deeper sickness in the way we live - constantly directing our gaze towards the next shiny object we should buy, rather than the human beings all around us."
In 2014, two-fifths of older people claimed that the TV was their main form of companionship.
Indeed, how many of the rest of us use Twitter, or Facebook, or Instagram, or playing games online as a substitute for face-to-face social contact, or real relationships?
How many of us have ever found ourselves "addicted" to a game?
How often are the games we play a form of social contact placebo, a sort of Band-Aid on a bigger emotional problem? Do we play because the games are addictive, or do we play because we're trying to get something from games that isn't being fulfilled elsewhere?
I'm not for a second arguing that video games are dangerous, but the reasons we play can be as myriad as the reasons we do anything. There's simply nothing that we do in our lives which cannot be traced back to some emotional process, or damage.
Loneliness absolutely sucks. My life is good now, but I've been there. I've felt lonely, and I know that when I was lonely I craved connection. The lonelier and more isolated I felt the more I craved it. As the emotional bonds of my relationship got stretched ever more thinly, the more alone I felt, and I would pull away even further to seek connections. When you're drowning in a rough sea, and looking for something to help you float, you're not too fussy about your choice of driftwood. I didn't even know that what I was feeling was loneliness until a therapist once said to me: "You sound lonely..."
And then it hit me like a ton of bricks.
Even now I know that I feel the pull of my primal instinct to form a bond when playing a game. It's why I love the games by Naughty Dog so much; The Last of Us and the Uncharted series feature characters with whom I feel an emotional connection. I want to spend time with them. That's the direction I'm hoping games are heading in; ways to reach out to us, emotionally.
I know while I'm playing games that I'm not worrying about bills, about debt, about work. I'm temporarily distracted, the games releasing all kinds of chemicals in my brain which act as a sort of painkiller, just like heroin does.
And so video games, like heroin, like cocaine, like Twitter, like anything to which people can become addicted, or form a habit with, aren't the problem.
The problem is a society in which we've become increasingly isolated from one another. Games are great, but if it's all we do then all we're doing is isolating ourselves further, and exacerbating our loneliness.
Not only that, but you see the need for bonding in movements such as Gamergate, the alt.right, feminism, veganism, Star Wars fans, Whovians, or any other community which has gained a collective voice in this online age.
Being a part of these groups gives a sense of belonging, a sense of feeling less alone in the world - yet the connections are strained through the filter of screens and electronic interfaces. It's the difference between chocolate and that horrible "chocolate-flavoured candy".
Yet in the place of anything more real, it offers a semblance of communual purpose in the world, and that's why it's virtually impossible to argue with any of these groups, or convince them that they're wrong in their beliefs.
To do so you are literally threatening them with yet more social isolation - something we're programmed to fight against, no matter what. It might not be a conscious process, but evolutionarily we're programmed to believe that social isolation equates to our own death, and that's a very big thing to threaten someone with.
Not only that, but their view of the world will alter to fit with what they want or need to believe is the correct view of the world, to make themselves feel safe.
I do wonder if part of the reason why these groups shout louder now, argue ever more vociforously, have gained traction, is because they're trying to shout over the gulf between their members, because these groups are chiefly collections of individuals sitting at computers - rather than making genuine social connections in a town hall or bierkeller. I dunno.
In a column for The Guardian in 2014, the activist George Monbiot wrote: "We were social creatures from the start, mammalian bees, who depended entirely on each other. The hominins of east Africa could not have survived one night alone.
"We are shaped, to a greater extent than almost any other species, by contact with others."