Can video games be addictive? One U.S. expert has no doubts.
Douglas Gentile, a psychologist at Iowa State University, has been studying the subject for decades.
“The first study I began in 1999, to basically try to show video game addiction isn’t a real thing, and it turns out I was wrong!” he told CNN.
According to his research, roughly 8.5% percent of children who play video games in the United States are addicted. He found similar numbers across the world.
“Even though different researchers across the world may define the problem somewhat differently, or ask different questions in different countries with differently aged kids, we find almost the same results across the world” Gentile says.
“The estimates perhaps vary somewhat, but they all seem to come out somewhere between about 4 and 10 percent: that’s the amount of gamers I would classify as addicted.”
Access is key
Gentile sees the increased availability of technology and the spread of broadband internet as a key reason for this.
“A risk factor for addiction is access,” he says. “It’s really hard to get addicted to drugs if you can’t get them.
“This is why we’re seeing Internet Gaming Disorder becoming a bigger problem because now, not only has almost everyone got a computer, and almost everyone has a video game system in their home … but now you’ve got a cell phone and you’ve got games on it and you can access games pretty much everywhere.”
The American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5, a manual that classifies mental disorders, lists Internet Gaming Disorder as “a condition warranting more clinical research and experience before it might be considered for inclusion in the main book as a formal disorder.”
Tackling the ‘ABC’
Gentile says games are so compelling because they satisfy an “ABC” of human needs.
“The A Is Autonomy, we like to feel we’re in control. B is Belonging, we like to feel connected to other people. And the C is Competence, we like to feel that we’re good at what we do,” he says.
Games can fulfill all of these, or at least they do when the players are good and become part of an online community surrounding them.
Mark Griffiths is a chartered psychologist and director of the International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University. He believes that addiction boils down to being constantly rewarded while playing a game — whether those rewards are the physical buzz of beating your high score, or the psychological reward of knowing that your strategic play helped you succeed.
“Most of these rewards are — at least to some extent — unpredictable,” he says. “Not knowing when the next reward will come keeps some players in the game. In short, they carry on gaming even though they may not have received an immediate reward. They simply hope that another reward is “just around the corner” and keep on playing.”
He also points out that in the last decade we have seen a shift from standalone console gaming to massive multiplayer online games that have no end, and can’t be paused.
“Many excessive gamers report that they hate logging off and leaving such games,” he says. “They don’t like it as they don’t know what is going on in the game when they are not online.”