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What Is Video Game Addiction?

Gaming Addiction Basics

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Updated April 22, 2014

Video game addiction, often considered a form of computer addiction or internet addiction, has had more and more press over the years. Video games include computer games, console games, arcade machine games, and even cell phone, PDA, and advanced calculator games. Since the 1950s, gaming has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry. People have recently become concerned about the long-term effects of video game playing, particularly on children.

Concerns center on the following questions:

  • “Are video games harmful?”
  • “Do violent video games cause aggression?”
  • “Are video games addictive?”

While research is inconclusive, there does appear to be evidence that video games can be harmful, can increase aggression, and can be addictive. However, these effects are highly individual, and may involve many more factors than simply the amount of time spent playing games.

Could My Child or I Have a Video Game Addiction?

Research studies show that only 10 to 15% of video gamers meet the criteria for addiction. Heavy game use is defined by the American Medical Association as playing for more than two hours per day, yet estimates of the amount of time gamers spend playing video games vary from 6 to 12 hours per week. In fact, reports typically suggest that gamers spend about a quarter of their leisure time playing video games.

Considering this, it is easy to be confused about whether your or someone else’s gaming falls in the average or heavy ranges.

As with all addictions, it is important when considering the possibility of a video game addiction to not simply consider the amount of time spent gaming, but also the function it is serving the individual. Video game playing, as one of a range of recreational activities, may not be harmful or indicate an addiction. On the other hand, when game playing is addictive, it takes over as the person’s main way of coping with life, with other important areas of life being neglected or disrupted as a result.

Video game addiction or video game overuse is seen most commonly in players of the persistent multiplayer gaming universe, or Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game -- MMORPG games for short, who make up 9.1% of gamers, and may overlap with other types of internet addiction or computer addiction. These games hold many attractions for gamers -- they are interactive, social, competitive, and happen in real time. Research indicates that MMORPG players tend to be lonely, socially marginalized people who have difficulty with real life social interactions. They may feel that they have a more positive social experience and more control in virtual relationships than they do in the real world.

The Controversy of Video Game Addiction

Like other behavioral addictions, video game addiction is a controversial idea.

Read more about the controversy of video game addiction: Is video game addiction really an addiction?

While video gaming research is showing some disturbing effects, particularly in younger players, there is a lack of long-term research and insufficient evidence to definitively conclude that video game overuse is indeed an addiction. In addition, cautionary messages from groups such as the American Medical Association, which believes that video games are potentially harmful, have to compete with the aggressive marketing of the video games industry, whose own research, unsurprisingly, shows no ill effects.

Video game addiction is not currently included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), the "gold standard" reference for mental health conditions. In addition, it has not been recommended for inclusion by the American Psychological Association. The American Medical Association has, however, vacillated on whether or not to recommend inclusion of “Internet/video game addiction” as a formal diagnostic disorder in Manual's upcoming revision.

How Is Video Game Addiction Like Other Addictions?

Video game addictions are similar to other addictions in terms of the amount of time spent playing, the strong emotional attachment to the activity, and the patterns of social difficulties experienced by gaming addicts. As with other addictions, gaming addicts become preoccupied with game-playing, and it disrupts family and other areas of life, such as school. The younger that children begin playing video games, the more likely they are to develop dependence-like behaviors.

As with other addictive behaviors, there are a range of different responses to the activity. While some gamers feel unable to reduce the time they spend playing, others do not experience cravings if they are unable to play.

Harmful Effects of Video Games

As well as addiction, the following harmful effects have been found to be related to video game use:

  • Increased risk of light-induced seizures, musculoskeletal disorders of the upper extremities and increased metabolic rate.
  • Increased aggressive thoughts and aggressive behaviors, particularly in children under age 10.
  • Reduced pro-social (cooperative) behaviors in social interactions.

Sources

Entertainment Software Association. "2008 Essential Facts about the Computer and Video Game Industry." Accessed 10 Feb 2009.

Entertainment Software Association. "2007 Essential Facts about the Computer and Video Game Industry." Accessed 10 Feb 2009.

Entertainment Software Association. "2006 Essential Facts about the Computer and Video Game Industry." Accessed 10 Feb 2009.

Khan, MD, PhD, Mohamed K. "Emotional and Behavioral Effects, Including Addictive Potential, of Video Games." Report Of The Council On Science And Public Health Csaph Report 12-A-07. 2007. Accessed 10 Feb 2009.

Nielsen Entertainment Report; 2005. "Benchmarking the Digital Household." Abridged findings in Nielsen Releases Gamer Findings by Bryan Vore. November 21, 2005. Accessed 10 Feb 2009.

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