Is there such a thing as video game addiction? While popular evidence suggests that people can “get hooked” on playing video games (we all know some hard core gamers out there), new research suggests that as far as being a genuine disorder goes, internet gaming disorder may not be a real psychological condition.
Video games have been around since the 1970s but it’s been the past two decades that have seen the industry —and with it, the public consumption of and preoccupation with gaming— go through the roof. From Candy Crush to Call of Duty and whether on your phone, tablet or home system, video games now have a constant and ubiquitous presence in our lives. But can you get addicted to them?
Two prominent organizations have at least assumed it possible.
The World Health Organization’s International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems has proposed “gaming disorder” as a health-impairing, problematic form of gaming behaviour, while the American Psychiatric Association’s newest version of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) calls internet-based video gaming a “condition of further study” and provides a list of nine diagnostic criteria for Internet Gaming Disorder. For example, the DSM-5 lists the following among its criteria: a preoccupation or obsession with gaming, a loss of interest in other life activities as a result of gaming, a negative impact from gaming on other aspects of a person’s life and whether a person uses internet gaming to relieve anxiety or as a way to escape problems.
And thus, to help fill in some of the blanks surrounding the potential disorder, a new study from the United Kingdom conducted a survey based on a nationally representative sample of 2,316 adults in the United States who were classified as regular gamers. Researchers tracked the cohort over a six-month period to examine psychological and health markers along with motivational factors influencing their game playing.
The results showed that regular gaming did not match the assumed qualities of an addiction, as participants did not show over the course of the six-month period an increase in the expression of DSM-5 criteria for the disorder, nor did the researchers find that regular gaming had negative health implications over time.
“[The results] do not support a theoretical framing of Internet Gaming Disorder as a chronic psychiatric condition akin to substance abuse disorder as some have argued,” say the study’s authors, whose research is published in the journal Peer J.
“We didn’t see a large number of people with clinical problems,” says study co-author Netta Weinstein of Cardiff University. “The study’s results suggest that it’s not clear how many resources should go to gaming addiction, compared to other addictions like drugs.”
Health experts have raised concerns about instantiating gaming as an addiction on par with substance addiction. They also point to the potential social impact of labelling gaming behaviour an addiction, which would fuel widespread concern about the purported harms, especially to children, of playing video games. “Pathologizing gaming behaviour has fallout beyond the therapeutic setting,” say one group of psychologists in a recent opinion piece in the American Psychological Association.