Case For Addiction
Several research studies have been conducted that indicate video game addiction is real in around 10% of gamers who meet criteria for video game addiction. Grüsser et al (2007) found that pathological gamers differed from regular gamers in terms of daily time spent playing, and had higher "expected relief of withdrawal symptoms when gaming," and higher "craving due to the expectation of a positive outcome of gaming." These are all characteristics which mirror those of of substance dependence.
Skoric et al (2009) showed that video game addiction is independent of simply how much time is spent playing, and how engaged children are with the game. In their study, addiction tendencies were negatively related to scholastic performance, while no such relationship was found for either time spent playing games or for video game engagement. A similar pattern of video game addiction being negatively related to scholastic performance was previously found in a separate study by Chiu et al (2004).
Charlton's (2002) factor analysis provided support for computer addiction as a unique concept. This research demonstrated the importance of recognizing the specific characteristics of computer addiction, rather than simply adapting measures of pathological gambling, which are likely to overestimate the occurrence of computer addiction.
Recognition of video game addiction would allow support services to be integrated into community addiction settings, and specific training to be provided to staff. This is particularly important given the high incidence of concurrent disorders among those with video game addiction.
The reality of popular culture is that we are more and more dependent on technology. A generation ago, computers were complicated and difficult to use, but modern computers are more user-friendly, and are relatively easy and enjoyable for the majority of people to use. Video games allow people to have positive experiences of using computers, that can provide transferable skills for using computers for a variety of purposes.
Bearing in mind the potential positive effects of video game playing, to label the activity an addiction without sufficient evidence and interpretive guidelines about what constitutes addiction (as opposed to benign or positive game playing) could deter many children and their parents who could possibly benefit from video games. This would be a mistake.
There is wide variation in video games, and although some appear to have harmful effects, particularly through the promotion of violence and other anti-social behaviors, this is a function of the content of specific games, rather than a characteristic of video games per se. Video games as a medium have equal potential to develop positive social skills, or to provide benign forms of entertainment -- although these may not be as easily marketable to kids.
As with other addictions, there is a risk that a label like video game addiction could be used too liberally, without paying attention to other concurrent or underlying conditions, such as attentional problems, autism spectrum disorders, depression and anxiety disorders. These conditions have different treatments which might more effectively help the excessive game player.
And video game addiction is vulnerable to the same criticism that all behavioral addictions are -- that addictions are a chemical problem resulting from the intake of addictive substances, not a pattern of behavior.
Where It Stands
In the same release in which they withdrew their recommendation that video game addiction be recognized, the APA expressed serious concern about the consequences of excessive video game playing in children, stating:
"Psychiatrists are concerned about the wellbeing of children who spend so much time with video games that they fail to develop friendships, get appropriate outdoor exercise or suffer in their schoolwork. Certainly a child who spends an excessive amount of time playing video games may be exposed to violence and may be at higher risks for behavioral and other health problems."
Therefore, whether or not video game addiction is acknowledged as a real addiction, or even as a mental health problem in and of itself, the APA is clear that excessive video game playing in children can be unhealthy, and can lead to other problems.
American Psychiatric Association, News Release: Statement of the American Psychiatric Association on "Video Game Addiction". Release No. 07-47. June 21, 2007.
American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th Edition – Text Revision), Washington DC, American Psychiatric Association. 1994.
Block, M.D., Jerald J., "Issues for DSM-V: Internet Addiction." Am J Psychiatry 165:3. 2008.
Charlton, J. P. "A factor-analytic investigation of computer addiction and engagement." British Journal of Psychology 93:329–344. 2002.
Chiu, Ed.D., S., Lee, M.A., J. & Huang, Ph.D., D. "Video Game Addiction in Children and Teenagers in Taiwan." Cyberpsychology & Behavior 7:571-581. 2004.
Entertainment Software Association. "2008 Essential Facts about the Computer and Video Game Industry." Accessed 10 Feb 2009.
Grüsser, Ph.D, S.M.., Thalemann, Ph.D., R. & Griffiths, Ph.D., M. "Excessive computer game playing: evidence for addiction and aggression?" Cyberpsychology & Behavior 10:290-292. 2007.
Khan, MD, PhD, Mohamed K. “Emotional and Behavioral Effects, Including Addictive Potential, of Video Games.” Report Of The Council On Science And Public Health. CSAPH Report 12-A-07. 2007. Accessed 10 Feb 2009.
Skoric, M., Lay Ching Teo, L. & Lijie Neo, L. "Children and Video Games: Addiction, Engagement, and Scholastic Achievement." CyberPsychology & Behavior. 12:567-572. 2009.