ByMarcus O'Shea, writer at
Resident RPG nerd and SoulsBorne fanatic. Can be spotted by their floofy hair.
Marcus O'Shea

Video game addiction has been a concern for almost as long as have existed. Since 1981—when British parliament debated banning Space Invaders for causing addiction and deviancy—people have been worried that games may have the power to ruin someone's life on a similar level to gambling.

How Bad is Gaming Addiction?

A truly deviant game [credit: Atari]
A truly deviant game [credit: Atari]

In the last few years, more and more scientific attention has been payed towards video games and game addiction, possibly as a result of several high profile deaths in the last few years attributed to it. While estimates were thrown around, such as Psychologist Maressa Orzack's claim that 40% of players are addicts, no conclusive results were forthcoming.

[Credit: Blizzard]
[Credit: Blizzard]

In 2007, in order to facilitate an accurate study, the American Psychological Association put together a list of nine symptoms that could indicate an addiction to internet gaming. These were:

  • Preoccupation or obsession with Internet games.
  • Withdrawal symptoms when not playing Internet games.
  • A build-up of tolerance—more time needs to be spent playing the games.
  • The person has tried to stop or curb playing Internet games, but has failed to do so.
  • The person has had a loss of interest in other life activities, such as hobbies.
  • A person has had continued overuse of Internet games even with the knowledge of how much they impact a person’s life.
  • The person lied to others about his or her Internet game usage.
  • The person uses Internet games to relieve anxiety or guilt—it’s a way to escape.
  • The person has lost or put at risk and opportunity or relationship because of Internet games.

A sufferer of Internet Gaming Disorder, as it was tentatively called by the APA, had to tick at least five of the nine symptoms, as well as experiencing significant or noticeable distress when attempting to reduce their time spent playing video games. Numerous studies have been undertaken since then, but they were often small, lacked time frame context and used questionable methodologies such as self-reported surveys.

Many studies have focused on South Korea, which has been the site of several high profile video game addiction stories. [credit: PixelVulture]
Many studies have focused on South Korea, which has been the site of several high profile video game addiction stories. [credit: PixelVulture]

Now the largest study so far has been completed into Internet Gaming Disorder, surveying almost 19,000 people in an attempt to quantify just how many people may be suffering from the potential affliction. So how many people are suffering from video games addiction? It turns out a lot fewer than many estimated.

Of those surveyed, only 2-3% reported hitting five of the nine symptoms listed. Of those, an even smaller proportion actually felt significant distress when attempting to reduce their games consumption, about 0.3% in fact. This is far lower than rates of Gambling addiction (1-3%) and alcohol abuse (around 7%). In addition, the study failed to find significant causal links between gaming addiction and health problems, suggesting that the biggest impact of Internet Gaming Disorder for most is a loss of time and perhaps a tendency to reference memes that no one else in the room cares about.

"Nobody in the Dunkin' Donuts gets this, Steve."
"Nobody in the Dunkin' Donuts gets this, Steve."

So does the study close the book on the threat of gaming addiction? Of course not, it's the first major study of its kind, using a specific set of criteria. The cornerstone of good science and statistics is an ability to replicate results, so there'll have to be a few more studies before anything truly concrete can be concluded.

For now though, it seems the claims of a video game addiction epidemic may have been a bit premature. Unless Karen and her Switch are going to be patient zero of course:

Have you ever felt like you were addicted to a video game? Let us know in the comments.


Do you think video game addiction may be a problem?


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