The disconnect between the money we actually have and the money we spend is so great, O'Day says, it is no surprise many people are in financial distress. When we spend our real money as if it is "make-believe," the potential costs and pitfalls can be enormous.
Any game such as FarmVille that "connects you to other players through the Web can run the gamut from being harmless to a compulsive player's worst nightmare," says April Lane Benson, a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of compulsive buying disorder and the author of "To Buy or Not to Buy ." "People who get sucked into these Internet worlds sometimes have a hard time coming back to reality and realizing that their absorption has caused negative consequences in their real lives."
There is a lot of potential for game addiction in those already more likely to form addictions, says Kathy Shumney, a psychotherapist with Challenges, a treatment center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. People who tend to get addicted to online games are usually those who already have dissociative qualities, Shumney says, and may easily get into situations that allow them to lose touch with reality, as in with money. What's more, these games may be particularly attractive to those seeking manic highs or even those predisposed to hoarding.