In Excess

Gambling, Gaming and Extreme Behavior

Carry On Screening

What are the trends in video game addiction research?

Gaming addiction has become a topic of increasing research interest. Over the last decade there has been a significant increase in the number of scientific studies examining various aspects of video game addiction. This has resulted in a wide-ranging selection of review papers focusing on different aspects of the topic. These include general literature reviews of video game addiction, reviews of online (as opposed to offline) gaming addiction, reviews of the main methodological issues in studying video game addiction, reviews of structural characteristics and their relationship with video game addiction, reviews of video game addiction treatment, reviews of video game addiction and co-morbidity/convergence with other addictions such as gambling addiction and Internet addiction, and miscellaneous review papers on very specific aspects of video game addictions such as social responsibility, screening instruments, or reviews refuting that video game addiction even exists.

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Furthermore, the amount and the quality of research in the gaming addiction field has progressed much over the last decade but is still in its infancy compared to other more established behavioral addictions, such as pathological gambling. Today’s blog briefly provides a considered (and somewhat speculative) examination of what might happen in the gaming addiction field from a number of different standpoints (e.g., methodological, conceptual, technological). These are taken from a paper I published in Current Psychiatry Reviews with Dr. Daniel King (University of Adelaide, Australia) and Dr. Daria Kuss (Birmingham City University, UK). These trends were loosely modeled on a 2011 paper I wrote on the technological trends in gambling and published in Casino and Gaming International.

• There is likely to be an even bigger increase in empirical research into problematic video game playing and video game addiction. This will of course be dependent on both appropriate funding streams and/or whether gaming addiction ends up being included in future psychiatric disorder classifications (e.g., Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, International Classification of Diseases, etc.). Future research is likely to include more epidemiological and/or general population data on media use, leading to better insights into the onset and course of problematic video game play and addiction.

• Given the many different screening instruments that have been developed over the last decade, there is likely to be a refinement of video game addiction measures and greater consensus on its conceptualization, either as a single disorder and/or incorporated into other known disorders (e.g., impulse control disorder). This is also likely to lead to improved assessment tools based on such conceptualization(s).

• Measures of gaming use and subsequent behavior are likely to diversify in terms of media use, including social networking sites (SNS) and associated Internet resources. Already, games such as Call of Duty and Battlefield 3 are being released with their own SNS (e.g., COD Elite) that track player behavior and provide feedback to players as to how to improve their game (thus functionally reinforcing video game play and thus have implications for excessive and/or potentially addictive play).

• Given the pressure on media enterprises to ‘monetize’ their business and look for different revenue streams, there is likely to be even greater media convergence between gaming and other more profit-making activities such as gambling. Given the well established addictive potential of gambling, this may also have implications for the incidence of video game addiction.

• Gaming on the move is likely to be a big growth area that may have implications for excessive gaming via ‘convenience’ hardware such as handheld gaming consoles, PDA devices, mobile phones, tablet computers, and MP3 players.

• Given the fact that the Internet is gender-neutral, there is likely to be increasing feminization of gaming where increasing numbers of females not only engage in the playing of online games, but also develop problems as a result. Casual gaming online is already popular among females. However, the biggest difference between male and female gaming is likely to be content-based (e.g., males may prefer competitive type gaming experiences whereas females may prefer co-operative type gaming experiences).

• Given the increasing number of research teams in the gambling field being given direct access to gambling companies behavioral tracking data110, there is likely to be an increasing number of such collaborations in the gaming studies field.

• Given the increased importance of additional research into the structural and situational characteristics of consumptive behaviors (e.g., smoking nicotine, drinking alcohol, gambling, etc.), it is likely that research on design features within games and their psychological impact (including potential addiction) will increase as well. Such research has already begun (including quite a few studies by our gaming research unit).

• As the diagnosis of video game addiction becomes more legitimate in psychiatric and medical circles, it will lead to better randomized control trials on interventions for problematic video game play than the ones already carried out. There is also likely to be an increase in the online medium itself being used as a treatment channel. The reasons that people like to engage in some online leisure activities (i.e., the fact that the online environment is non-face-to-face, convenient, accessible, affordable, anonymous, non-threatening, non-alienating, non-stigmatizing, etc.) may also be the very same reasons why people would want to seek advice, help and treatment online rather than in face-to-face situations.

Based on our review paper there are several noticeable trends that can be drawn from our recent reviews of problematic video game play and video game addiction.

• There has been a significant increase in empirical research decade by decade since the early 1980s.

• There has been a noticeable (and arguably strategic) shift in researching the mode of video game play. In the 1980s, research mainly concerned ‘pay-to-play’ arcade video games. In the 1990s, research mainly concerned stand alone (offline) video games played at home on consoles, PCs or handheld devices. In the 2000s, research mainly concerned online massively multiplayer video games.

• There has been a noticeable shift in how data are collected. Up until the early 2000s, data about video game behavior was typically collected face-to-face, whereas contemporary studies collect data online, strategically targeting online forums where gamers are known to (virtually) congregate. These samples are typically self-selecting and (by default) unrepresentative of the general population. Therefore, generalization is almost always one of the methodological shortcomings of this data collection approach.

• Survey study sample sizes have generally increased. In the 1980s and 1990s, sample sizes were typically in the low hundreds. In the 2000s, sample sizes in their thousands—even if unrepresentative—are not uncommon.

• There has been a diversification in the way data are collected including experiments, physiological investigations, secondary analysis of existing data (such as that collected from online forums), and behavioral tracking studies.

• There has been increased research on adult (i.e., non-child and non-adolescent) samples reflecting the fact that the demographics of gaming have changed.

• There has been increasing sophistication in relation to issues concerning assessment and measurement of problematic video game play and video game addiction. In the last few years, instruments have been developed that have more robust psychometric properties in terms of reliability and validity. However, there are still some concerns as many of the most widely used screening instruments were adapted from adult screens and much of the video game literature has examined children and adolescents. In other papers I have co-written with Dr. Daniel King, we have asserted that to enable future advances in the development and testing of interventions for video game-related problems, there must be some consensus among clinicians and researchers as to the precise classification of these problems. (In fact, we recently published a major review paper assessing video game addiction in Clinical Psychology Review).

Clearly, there exist a number of gaps in current understanding of problematic video game play and video game addiction. There is a need for epidemiological research to determine the incidence and prevalence of clinically significant problems associated with video game play in the broader population. There are too few clinical studies that describe the unique features and symptoms of problematic video game play and/or video game addiction. While the current empirical base is relatively small, gaming addiction has become a more mainstream area for psychological and psychiatric research and is likely to become an area of significant importance given the widespread popularity of gaming.

References and further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Technological trends and the psychosocial impact on gambling. Casino and Gaming International, 7(1), 77-80. 

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J. & King, D.L. (2012). Video game addiction: Past, present and future. Current Psychiatry Reviews, 8, 308-318.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H., Griffiths, M.D. & Gradisar, M. (2011). Assessing clinical trials of Internet addiction treatment: A systematic review and CONSORT evaluation. Clinical Psychology Review, 31, 1110-1116.

King, D.L., Haagsma, M.C., Delfabbro, P.H., Gradisar, M.S. &, Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Psychometric assessment of pathological video-gaming: A systematic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 33, 331-342.

Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit in the Psychology Division at Nottingham Trent University (UK).

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