Some Kids Are "Pathologically" Addicted to Video Games, Study Finds

By Eliza Strickland | April 22, 2009 8:43 am

video gamesSome kids lie and steal to get an opportunity to play a thrilling video game, while others say they have to spend an ever increasing amount of time playing games to get the same level of enjoyment, and feel irritable when they can’t play. All these behaviors, recorded in a new survey of young gamers, are actually symptoms of addiction to video games, psychologist Douglas Gentile argues. “I think we’re at the same place now with video gaming as we were with alcoholism 40 years ago,” said Gentile, noting that decades of research finally showed that alcoholism is a disease [HealthDay News].

The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, surveyed more than 1,000 American kids ranging in age from 8 to 18. Gentile used a questionnaire adapted from a set of questions used to diagnose compulsive gambling in adults, and found that almost one in ten respondents showed signs of “pathological gaming,” meaning that they exhibited at least six of the 11 criteria of addiction. Gentile claims that he started his research with doubts about the possibility of addiction. “I thought this was parental histrionics — that kids are playing a lot and parents don’t understand the motivation, so they label it an addiction,” he said. “It turns out that I was wrong” [Washington Post].

The study found that four times as many boys as girls met the criteria for addiction. “Pathological gamers” received worse grades and were more likely to report having trouble paying attention in school than non-pathological players…. They were more than twice as likely to have been diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder [HealthDay News]. They were also more likely to have been involved in physical fights recently. But the study didn’t attempt to determine whether excessive game playing caused the academic or social problems.

Explains Gentile: “It is certainly possible that pathological gaming causes poor school performance, and so forth, but it is equally likely that children who have trouble at school seek to play games to experience feelings of mastery, or that attention problems cause both poor school performance and an attraction to games.” … The best advice to parents is simply to monitor the amount of time their children spend gaming, and to keep an eye on their school work and social activity [Ars Technica].

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Image: flickr / RebeccaPollard

  • andrew

    What!?!? Huh?!?! Did I just lose3 minutes from my life. What a pointless article.

  • Peter Shaw

    It interests me that this study only focused on children. A lot of statistical data shows that adults play more video games than children today. If these same signs showed in adults as children then I think there would be a lot more credence to these kinds of studies. Otherwise it could just be considered a “phase”, not pathological. I don’t disagree that some children play too many games, but I think it is more of a symptom than a cause.

  • amanda

    I think it all depends on how the parents act also. If there is a child in a busy family, the parents might let the child sit and play games while they get accomplished what they want. It is kind of like having a free baby sitter! A good friend of mine has a 10 year old child and he has almost every system out there. I find it a major problem but she doesn’t. When they went on vacation with us the one year, she let him take his Nintendo DS and Play Station 2 with. This upset a lot of people that went because we normally like to sit and watch movies together or play board games as a family and all the kid wanted to do was play games. It was fine but when he got an attitude because we told him he couldnt play, she stuck up for his poor behavior and let him play anyway.
    You have to be able to give your child limits when it comes to electronics. Letting them play for maybe an hour a day after homework and any chores are done is great but if the lazy parents let their child come home from school and go right in their room and start playing, it becomes a problem. Then anyone and everyone has to deal with that childs attitude if they are told to shut it off and they dont want to. I understand everyone is raised differently but the amount of time more and more children are playing video games, the parents are right there along with them! Then a whole nothing problem begins when parents start spending hundreds of dollars on games. I think video games should just be banned! They are bad for you unless you get educational games and what child wants that!

  • Nick

    Amanda, that’s just ignorant. In fact, you can tell you’re not a parent. Everyone’s a great parent until they have kids. Seriously, banning all video games? I hate to be rude but your attitudes are ignore and you need to go read the wealth of information out there on how video games actually affect humans rather than going off the handle over *one* report without any replicated finding, which, like almost all other anti-videogame-propaganda out there, will likely be found to ring false. Like any form of escapism, if you feel your daily life doesn’t measure up, you will retreat into it. That doesn’t mean the format of the escape is addictive.

    If the kid refused to play board games or watch movies because he wanted to read Moby Dick instead, everyone would be like “Wow what a great child! I wish more kids were like him.” But instead is demonized for having his own will because it’s video games. Reading a book isn’t anti-social, but playing a video game is. Tell me, why is that in our society?

    Also, board games and movies are boring. I don’t blame the kid for not wanting to sit around for such mentally devoid activities.

    I have played video games all my life. I am quite well adjusted, I assure you. In fact, according to studies, I would make a GREAT surgeon because of above-average hand-eye coordination. Or a good artist, because of my 68% greater detection of contrast thanks to playing first-person-shooter video games. And if you think I’m full of it, better read the archive of this blog, all those stats are in there.

    And another thing that shows your ignorance. Almost all games are education – because they have two things: an interface you must master (i.e. learn zomg!) and then they have problems you must solve by manipulating that interface (oh crud, learning again). And when you fail, you have to go back and devise a new strategy or try new tactics. Sounds just like learning math (the numbers are the interface) and figuring out problems. There are also video games that require money and inventory management to excel at.

    And I put it to you, that in your story, your family is the bad guy. You tried to force a child to participate in activities he didn’t like. But if he had said to you “hey, lets all play a fun cooperative video game” I bet he would have gotten the exact same reaction out of you that you got out of him trying to force him into your games.

  • Nick

    And I mean, really, you could take that first paragraph of this blog post, replace video games with “enhancing your car for racing” or “working out” or “making money” or “painting” or drawing” or just about anything – no matter what it is, the more you do it the more you want to do it, and the longer you do it the harder it is to get better even though you may already be excellent at it.

  • Kevin

    I totally agre with NIck

  • Chris

    I completely agree with Nick.

  • Jessica 13

    i also agree, you go nik !
    i myself are a constant vidio gamer and have learned alot from my games
    as a pearson i know more about weponary than most people and are much more precice with my dissisions. for instance call of duty 4 has gave an insight into ‘moden warfare ‘ and i comleeted tomb raider under world the first week i got it.
    further more , amander ? all games should be banned? yeah in your head! and lets keep it that way becauseas nik said ALL GAMES ARE EDUCATIONAL
    eeven if you dont think they are . like zombie games, allthough they seem mindless they are very prepareing. for if the got attaked they would know what to do(and im nt talking about ‘zombies’ yet).(now i am) plus ifwe ever do find or create a disease that will turn us into maneating,sleeples zombie-like being then (god help us!)they will be ready to survive even there were no zombies(people just might drop dead ,it could go either way!). so amander i am 13 and i have devveloped most of my skills from this mind contoling addiction and i am in th top class and i am above my level and that goes for the people who wrote the artical in the first place not just you amanda, so Discover, PLEASE GET YOUR FACTS RIGHT before you post an artical like this and you amander! thanks!

  • Jessica 13

    oh and by the way im not a pc geek! and most of my friends dont know i have a gaming addiction so hushhhhhhhhhhhhh! lol

  • Jessica 13

    sos ma key board is messed up!
    so the word are bodged!

  • Grant H

    I must admit, I really enjoy flying at the end of a hard day in MS Flight Simulator. I’m quite good at medium range IFR and VFR flights with all the default prop planes. I like flying down the Seto Naikai from Osaka to Oita of Fukuoka with the time set to late afternoon in February. Oita has quite a challenging airport to land at.
    Also, I occasionally like loading up Gran Turismo 2 and driving fast in cars I would like to own. I like the car Encyclopaedia aspect of it, where you can read up about all the different car models the history of their developments. And (yes, I’m starting a sentence with ‘and’) then blasting around a track in a sampling car connoisseur

  • Grant H

    I must admit, I really enjoy flying at the end of a hard day in MS Flight Simulator. I’m quite good at short range IFR and VFR flights with all the default prop planes. I like flying down the Seto Naikai from Osaka to Oita or Fukuoka with the time set to late afternoon in February. Oita has quite a challenging airport to land at.
    Also, I occasionally like loading up Gran Turismo 2 and driving fast in cars I would like to own. I like the car encyclopaedia aspect of it, where you can read up about all the different car models and the history of their developments. And (yes, I’m starting a sentence with ‘and’) then sampling the goods by blasting around a track in a car connoisseur sort of way.
    I find games like these a great way to get your mind off things for a little while, you know, I pretend I have a life of owning my own plane or a garage of 30 interesting cars for a hour. Then I get to return to my real like with all its problems and complications, but I get to enjoy the really great stuff again with the general stress quietened and the remaining quiet thought “that was fun!”.

  • Grant H

    Sorry ’bout the double post.
    I clicked the “Submit..” by mistake, but I hit the browser’s “Stop” button, so I thought it hadn’t gone through.

  • Erasmussimo

    I’d like to offer an observation that the defense of video games seems quite strident. There’s certainly an element of “Thou dost protest too much” in these responses. There is absolutely no question that people have concerns about kids playing video games. I do not believe that video games cause kids to be more violent, and I further believe that kids will overdo anything and everything they try their hands at. At the same time, the widespread discomfort that many people feel that video games are somehow tawdry cannot be dismissed with a wave of the hand. There is a negative perception about video games out there; denying it will not make it go away.

    I further suspect that when psychologists get around to doing brain activity studies on people playing video games, they will find remarkable similarities with the behavior of the brain under the influence of some drugs. Specifically, I would expect to see significant reduction of some cortical functions.

  • CoryC

    It’s a proven fact that video games are far more interactive than movies and especially tv. What do doctor’s tell alzhiemer’s patients to do to delay the dementia? Play video games because they require stimulation that tv doesn’t give you. Take away the escapism and you’ll see alot more disgruntled people getting angry with each other. Make boardgames for the PC and maybe yer kids will play with them more… Or better yet, why not find out what game the kids like to play and MULTIPLAY with them! You just might be the cool relative for knowing how to play Mario Kart or outshoot them on Call of Duty or something like that. Better idea- keep yer ideas to yerself and leave a very successful medium of entertainment alone.

  • Erasmussimo

    CoryC, why are you so defensive about this? Would you be so abusive towards a person who criticized a movie they didn’t like?

  • andrew

    He probably likes video games Erasumussimo, that’s not too hard to grasp, is it?

  • Erasmussimo

    Yes, he likes video games. That’s good. But why must he condemn those who don’t like video games?

  • Grant H

    “Erasmussimo Says:
    April 22nd, 2009 at 10:56 pm
    I’d like to offer an observation that the defense of video games seems quite strident.”

    An insidious entry to battle. Not bad… I little clumsy, but sinister indeed.

    Pretending that the article does not allude to the suggestion that anyone who plays computer games may possibly be pathologically addicted doesn’t make that aspect simply go away. Ignoring context is an underhanded strategy.

    Your views and beliefs are worthy of respect and consideration as they are, there’s no need to use such devious psychological flanking to impress them on others.

  • Erasmussimo

    There’s nothing devious about my comments; I’m quite upfront about the point that there’s a lot of unnecessary defensiveness. If you see some sort of hidden agenda or secret message buried in my comments, why not just ask me about it to clarify the matter?

    But this paragraph strikes me as, well, pretty convoluted:

    “Pretending that the article does not allude to the suggestion that anyone who plays computer games may possibly be pathologically addicted doesn’t make that aspect simply go away. Ignoring context is an underhanded strategy.”

    This is pretty convoluted language; the first sentence nests seven verb forms, two explicit negatives, and one implicit negative. Let’s be straight here: the headline says “Some kids are pathologically addicted to video games”. You are stretching that straightforward statement with a variety of possibilities and insinuations. Why? There’s no need to play verbal games here. If you have something to say, just say it. Moreover, I am not ignoring the context, and I am not engaging in some sneaky strategy to deceive readers.

    Unfortunately, I’m off on a lecture trip tomorrow, so I won’t be able to respond for a few days, but I hope that you’ll come back with a clear and direct statement of your meaning.

  • Mark D

    Great comments on this article… Most of them I enjoyed more than the article itself.

    Ok, next do a study where you take video games away from these “kids” and see how soon they are “addicted” to something else like violence, smoking, alcohol or drugs. I seriously doubt it’s the medium, it’s much more likely to be the personality type that is the root of the problem here.

    “They were more than twice as likely to have been diagnosed with …. They were also more likely to have been involved in physical fights recently…. ”
    How about turning that logic around. These people ARE this way and will find an addiction to have. It’s been in-vouge to blame new media types time and again. Sell the video games, cell phones give you cancer, TV makes you a zombie, bash your radio for playing rock&roll, burn these books. History repeats itself.

    I think I’ll write an article claiming that lung cancer causes a smoking habit.

  • Video Parent

    I solved this problem for my kids with a very simple strategy, I got a Time’s Up timer from It’s a basic mechanical device that locks the cord into a little timer that you set once a week with the kid’s allotment of time for the week. When they use up their time during the week they have to wait until the beginning of the following week again. If they behave they get more time, if they don’t behave then you can dock time out. It warns you when there’s 5 minutes left. Works like a charm and under $30. Just my two cents.

  • Jessica 13

    i agree parent
    kids should have a life not lots of them
    but as long as they get at least some exersize besides with their thumbs
    they should be aloud to play every other day or so ,
    i am 13 and i am all for gaming but there is goin over the top.

    im nt sayin u are thgth so be cool!

  • Daima 37

    Daima 37 Parent/Counselor…my son is 9years old. I am a counselor and also a drug and alcohol specialist. I come from a family of addicts and began to see him exhibit addictive behaviors. Behaviors that I have not seen before. My son, would try to sneak and play, not be social during family gatherings to play, try to hide the game to play. And yes, has even lied to me to play. I dont think that a timer or calling this a phase stops the behaviors that make up an addiction. My son is a straight “A” student and also Mentally Gifted. I understand why he plays, the game is a continuous challenge. However, it has turned into a master with my son becoming enslaved! I will allow him some time to play, but only after a time of cleansing from such a stronghold. If your child is lying, cheating, stealing and manipulating to play a game its more than a past time or a phase…its an ADDICTION!

  • yesman

    i think that video games make peoepl happy when they need to be just like illegal drugs i don disagree with this artical though

  • yesman

    you should just get over the fact that kids like playing games and leave them alone.

  • kids spelling

    Video Games are becoming increasingly social, online multiplayer etc. And their also becoming incredibly realistic. I don’t think there is any hard in being overly addicted to video games in our digital society where many jobs don’t require you to get up from a desk or even interact with your coworkers much. Videos games are a form of escapism that is much less dangerous than drugs and alcohol.

  • bouncy castle hire melbourne

    Any sort of Addiction is bad. If kids play video game for 1/2 hour it’s good. It keeps them fresh and active. But if the hours extends more than that it gets worst. I thinks parents should keep a close eye on kids.

  • MJ

    There have been many great comments from both side of the remote–My son must be the prototypical subject in the study–well, almost. He had become exactly like an addict…I have been in recovery from alcoholism since 1992 (well before he was born). I met my husband in recovery. He actually recovered from heroin in 1994 (my son was born in 2000). We KNOW what a genuine addiction is and it is very much includes the: “gets irritated when can’t play; will lie and manipulate to allow for his playing” AND this past year his teacher asked with total concern–“what has happened to Michael? He was writing and reading much better last year than this year.” Michael is ADHS and PDD so I understand the comment about needing a sense of self-mastery. However, he does not come away from it the way a child who has just found out he can do something well—He comes away from it as if he were possessed by the devil himself (and all he plays is Mario games). This summer will be the hardest ever because he makes my life hell when his limit time is up. REALLY hell–So pray for me! I’ll need it!

  • seymour

    this is true, i have a 10 yr old kid, before playing and being addicted computer games, he is very lively, goes out and play with other kids, but after playing this online games, snatching cars, with guns, he became so shy, introvert, and wants to spend hours in front of the computer rather than go to the mall. He is not the same anymore. Im living in the philippines and having him tested by doctors will cost a lot.


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