They need their fix. Just a little bit, to get them through the day. They are not drug addicts. They play massively multiplayer online role-playing games.
A scientist who spoke Friday at Tempe's McClintock High School warned students that spending too much time in these virtual worlds can lead to addiction in certain types of people.
"A real red flag is when these people trade their real-life priorities for their online priorities," said Nick Yee, a scientist from the Palo Alto Research Center at Stanford University in California.
Yee, a fan of massively multiplayer online role-playing games himself, said the virtual worlds have become a phenomenon in recent years.
"In the beginning, people thought it was the online games that were addictive," Yee said. "Now a lot of people would frame it that there are specific vulnerabilities that people have that can lead them to become susceptible to addiction."
Yee said that people who suffer from depression and low self-esteem are often the ones who live more in their online worlds than they do in the real world.
He said some people become more consumed with their online relationships than their real-life ones - and parents often miss the warning signs in their children.
"Relationships tend to feel more jump-started when they start online," Yee told McClintock students. "But it's important to know that this may be due to the technology. The relationships form differently and serve different functions, and they are different than they would have been if the pair had met in real life."
With an interactive program, Yee had students use hand-controlled remote devices to answer questions about how much their parents knew about their online relationships and involvement.
About 75 percent of the students said they had become good friends with people they met online, 25 percent said their online friends are just as important as their real-life friends, and 11 percent said they had more than 20 friends online.
As many as 44 percent of students in the audience said they would sacrifice an hour of sleep for an hour of Internet time, and 40 percentsaid they thought their parents'rules for Internet use were unreasonable.
Yee said parents often cannot understand what their children are doing online, and this is what leads parents to miss the warning signs of addiction.
"I'm between your age and your parents' age, and even I grew up in a time when music was traded on cassettes and games were played from floppy disks," said Yee.
Warren Cole, a McClintock business teacher and the father of 7-year-old twin girls, said it concerns him that many children are more like experts on the Internet than the adults supervising them.
"It's like when they learn to drive, they feel as if they're indestructible," Cole said. "They're new at decision-making, they're so trusting, and there are people out there who will try to take advantage of that."