The Signs and Effects of Video Game Addiction

Boy sitting in chair, playing video games

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Video game addiction is compulsive or uncontrolled use of video games, in a way that causes problems in other areas of the person's life.

Often considered a form of computer addiction or internet addiction, video game addiction has been an increasing concern for parents as video games have become more commonplace and are often targeted at children. Video games include computer games, console games, arcade machine games, and even cell phone, and advanced calculator games. Games can be embedded in social networking sites, such as Facebook.

Since the 1950s, gaming has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry. Some people are concerned about the long-term effects of video game playing, particularly in 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.

Signs of Video Game Addiction

Research studies show that 1 to 16 percent of video gamers meet the criteria for addiction. However, the official definition of video game addiction varies across different organizations. 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. MMORPGs make up 25 percent of gaming revenue worldwide. These games hold many attractions for gamers—they are interactive, social, competitive, and happen in real-time.

Research indicates that MMORPGs are more addictive in nature. As a result, they tend to have greater negative impacts on physical health, sleep habits and academic performance.

The Controversy of Video Game Addiction

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

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.

Internet Gaming Disorder is currently included as a condition for further study in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), the "gold standard" reference for mental health conditions. Therefore, although it is not yet recognized fully as a disorder, proposed criteria have been published.

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 is 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.

Research with people who are addicted to video games shows that they have poorer mental health and cognitive functioning including poorer impulse control and ADHD symptoms, compared to people who do not have video game addiction.

People who are addicted to video games also have increased emotional difficulties, including increased depression and anxiety, report feeling more socially isolated, and are more likely to have problems with internet pornography use.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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