What Is Video Game Addiction?

Definition, Symptoms, Effects, Treatment, and Coping

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Video game addiction is the 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.

Understanding Video Game Addiction

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

Some symptoms of video game addiction can include:

  • Neglecting duties at work, home, or school in order to play video games
  • Thinking about video games all the time
  • Not being able to decrease playing time even when you try
  • Continuing to play despite the problems video games cause in your life
  • Playing video games to deal with anxiety, bad moods, or negative feelings
  • Feeling upset if you are not able to game
  • Not doing other things you used to enjoy in order to play video games
  • Hiding how much time you spend playing video games or lying about your gaming habits

Playing video games a lot is not necessarily a sign of a video game addiction, however. Some people are simply very enthusiastic about them and that is how they enjoy spending their free time. If gaming creates distress and interferes with a person's ability to function in their life, then it might be a sign that there is a problem.

How Common Is Video Game Addiction?

Research studies show that 1% to 16% 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.

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% 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.

Diagnosis 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.

Currently, it is not recognized as a distinct condition in the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (DSM-5-TR), the "gold standard" reference for mental health conditions. Internet gaming disorder, however, is included as a condition for further study in the DSM.

Although it is not yet recognized fully as a disorder, proposed criteria have been published.

To be diagnosed, gaming behavior must be severe enough that it creates significant problems in different areas of life, including home, work, family, school, and other areas. Symptoms must also be present for a year or longer.

Similarity to 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.

Effects of Video Game Addiction

Some studies suggest that violent video games may increase aggressive thoughts and behaviors. However, there is conflicting research on this, and some studies have not found this effect or suggest that it is influenced by other factors such as moral disengagement and disinhibition.

Research on 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.

Treatment for Video Game Addiction

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that can be helpful in the treatment of behavioral addictions such as video game addiction.

Working with a therapist, people learn to identify the thoughts that contribute to excessive, compulsive video game use. Once people learn to recognize these thoughts, they can then work to replace them with ones that are more helpful and productive.

Therapy can also help people develop different coping strategies to deal with feelings of stress and distract themselves from urges to play video games.

Coping With Video Game Addiction

If you suspect that you have a video game addiction or simply want to reduce your video game use, there are strategies you can use that can help. Some things you can try include:

  • Setting limits on your video game use: Decide how much you want to play each day. Set aside a specific block of time and set a timer so you'll know when it is time to quit. Consider enlisting the help of a friend to help keep you accountable.
  • Find distractions: Look for other things to hold your interest and fill your time when you feel the urge to play video games. Going for a walk, calling a friend, watching a movie, or reading a book are a few ideas, but trying out new hobbies and interests can also serve as welcome distractions.
  • Keep electronics out of your bedroom: Keep gaming systems, phones, and other electronic devices out of your bedroom so you aren't tempted to play games in the evening or before bedtime.
  • Practice relaxation techniques: If you are playing games in order to cope with feelings of stress or anxiety, try replacing your gaming habit with other effective coping strategies. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, and yoga can be a great way to unwind and destress without having to rely on video games.

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.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD
Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD is a psychologist, professor, and Director of the Centre for Health Leadership and Research at Royal Roads University, Canada.