Jan. 18, 2011 -- Do your kids prefer to play their favorite video games over and above all other activities? Is he or she also impulsive and not at ease in social situations?
If so, your child may be at risk for becoming a video game addict or pathological gamer, a study suggests.
New research in the February issue of Pediatrics helps highlight risk factors for video game addiction as well as some of the potential consequences of pathological gaming, including depression, anxiety, social phobia, and trouble in school.
“It is not just about how much time is spent playing video games,” says study author Douglas A. Gentile, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Iowa State University, Ames. “It is doing it in such a way that it damages your ability in many other areas, including social function, occupational function, relationships, and school performance.”
“Do you lie about how much you do it? Do you try to stop but can’t?” Gentile asks.
Video game addiction is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) as an official psychiatric diagnosis. “I don’t think we are there yet,” he says. “If this does turn out to be worthy of including in the DSM, it may end up being categorized as an impulse control disorder, such as pathological gambling.”
In Gentile’s two-year study of 3,000 school-aged children in Singapore, around 9% showed signs of video game addiction. This rate is similar to what has been reported in other countries.
Pathological gamers logged in more time playing video games, exhibited impulsive behavior, and were more likely to be socially awkward compared with those who were not hooked on video games, the study showed.
And pathological gaming may not be something that kids just grow out of, the new study suggests.
Fully 84% of those students who were video game addicts when the study began were still addicted two years later. “It is not a short-term problem,” Gentile says. “Once they get into a problematic pattern, it seems to stick with them.”
Behavioral Issues and Video Games
Video game addiction may feed into other behavioral or emotional issues or cause them.
For example, “maybe your grades aren’t good so you play games to cope, or maybe you play games excessively to the exclusion of other things such as schoolwork,” Gentile says.
In the study, those students who overcame their addiction were less depressed and anxious, and less likely to have social phobias and trouble in school at the end of the study than were gamers who were still playing video games pathologically.
The jury is out on whether or not some games or gaming forums are more addictive than others, he says. “There are some hints that online gamers may be more likely to be pathological gamers, but there is not enough evidence to say anything for sure.”
Violent games may also be more addictive because they tend to turn on the body’s fight or flight response, Gentile says.
The new findings do need to be replicated, but “If parents are feeling like maybe their kid is having a problem, and their grades are going down, maybe gaming is a piece of the puzzle.”
Gentile’s advice? Limit screen time to one to two hours a day.
“Every screen counts as long as not for school purposes,” Gentile says.
Choosing Video Games Over Other Activities
Dina L.G. Borzekowski, an associate professor in the department of health, behavior, and society at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, defines video game addiction as “being stuck in front of the screen and choosing to play video games over many other things.”
It’s not how much time a gamer spends playing his or her favorite games, she says. “A person can play many, many hours and not be an addict.”
“Be aware of how much time your kid is spending playing games,” Borzekowski says, “and whether your kid can get up and go do something else that is fun such as going to their best friend’s birthday party or an opening day game.”
If they can’t, you may have a video game addict on your hands, she says.