The World’s Most Problematic Videogames

By Neuroskeptic | February 20, 2013 12:40 pm

Is ‘video game addiction’ a useful concept?

Some people certainly play an awful lot of games, and therefore have little of a life outside of them; but that doesn’t in itself mean that games are harming them. Maybe that’s just how they prefer to live. Maybe games are just filling a void that would otherwise be occupied by something else.

However, some people do report suffering problems as a result of their gaming and wishing they could cut down on it. Such self-declared problematic use is surely of some concern.

Now, a survey has examined the factors associated with problematic gaming, and the results are rather interesting. The study examined a representative sample of the US population aged 18 and over. 37% of respondents played games for at least 1 hour per week; those who did were asked detailed questions about the games they played, and how much they played them. One of the questionnaires they completed was a measure of ‘problem’ gaming, the PVGPQ – which is closely based on an earlier one about alcohol.

It includes such questions as: “I have tried to control, cut back or stop playing, or play over a longer period than I intended” and “In order to play games I have skipped classes or work, lied, stolen, or had an argument or a fight with someone.”

So what did this show? One interesting result was that certain game genres were associated with problematic use: first-person shooters topped the list, and roleplaying games (RPGs) – including both the single-player and the massively-multiplayer variety (MMORPGs) – were also correlated with problems. This fits with a widespread impression among gamers (and others) that both MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft, and online shooters like Call of Duty and Counterstrike, attract obsessive players.

Gambling games were associated with problematic use, but less so.

Perhaps this is because such games have, over the past few years, adopted a system of progression and achievements; these essentially reward players for the sheer amount of playtime, rather than skill. In the old days, a game might require a lot of practice in order to get good enough to complete it, but they didn’t incentivize playtime per se. However, this might not be the whole explanation, because single player RPGs were associated with problem use as well, and these don’t tend to have the same reward structure.

The survey sheds light on many other aspects of the gaming market as well. Here’s just some of these fun facts:

Among video gamers age 18 and older, those reporting past-year use of many genres had mean ages between 30 and 35, with MMORPG, FPS, rhythm, RPG having the youngest audiences. Gambling and board/card games had mean player ages in the 50’s, with puzzle games close behind.

Women gravitated toward puzzle games, board/card games, platformers, and interactive sports-general games (predominantly interactive fitness or casual (non-simulation) sports games on the Nintendo Wii). Conventional sports games, role-playing games, shooters, and real-time strategy gamers showed extremely low female participation by comparison.

The highest affinity among white participants was for role-playing and strategy games; among Blacks, for gambling and sports games; and among Latino gamers for platformers.

ResearchBlogging.orgElliott L, Ream G, McGinsky E, & Dunlap E (2012). The Contribution of Game Genre and other Use Patterns to Problem Video Game Play among Adult Video Gamers. International journal of mental health and addiction, 10 (6), 948-969 PMID: 23284310

CATEGORIZED UNDER: mental health, papers, select
  • Joseph Tan

    I think it does actually hold for single-player RPGs, it’s a somewhat heterogeneous category, but many single-player RPGs do incentivize pure playtime, given that most employ some sort of leveling system that is on a gradient that it takes more time to level as you get more advanced in levels. It’s the idea of “grinding” that has been present ever since Japanese-style RPGs have been popular (Chrono Trigger, etc).

    Where I’m not convinced is the appropriateness of adapting an alcohol measure to video games and treating it in roughly the same way, but I don’t know much about the measure in question.

  • Neuroskeptic

    Hmm, true, I don’t play JRPGs to be honest. In my experience offline RPGs are not very grindy, but you’re right, JRPGs are more known for that.

    Plus RPGs tend to be just big games. Skyrim’s not grindy but it’s still got 100s of hours in it.

    • Joseph Tan

      To a certain extent Skyrim is grindy, but maybe that was me making it grindy by being determined to hit 100 in Blacksmithing and Enchantment before getting on much more with the story. You are right though in that it is different from the grind in an MMORPG, but maybe not so much from the well-crafted ones? But I suppose that’s a minor point in this study. I’m still curious about this PVGPQ, is it any good?

  • Joel Sammallahti

    If you look at the original level progression mechanic in Dungeons and Dragons, it would make Skinner proud. Different computer rpgs maintain and alter that in their ways, but in my view, rewards for playtime as opposed to skill are a defining quality of the genre, and have been since the beginning.

  • GindPipnd

    Man that jsut looks like it is gonna be good. I like it.

  • Neuroskeptic

    I think you’re right, and I was being a bit rose-tinted in my post about single player RPGs. It does seem to have got worse lately though especially on MMOs.

    • Aidan Skillings

      Single player RPGs, the old kind (Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, etc.), are almost always about the story – the gameplay is secondary. So I don’t think it’s fair to say that they (classic RPGs) hook gamers primarily through a false sense of accomplishment. On the other hand, these games, not unlike MMOs, tend to suck you into an ideal world that’s far more interesting than your own. It might be cool to see how many cashiers play fantasy games as opposed to the rock stars and movie gods. 😛

  • Terrell Gibbs

    Another way of stating it: Games that people play obsessively for extended periods of time are likely to be those that continue to offer rewards (e.g. increased score, new challenges, new experiences) over an extended period of play time.

  • thecellularscale

    Video games provide a sense of accomplishment and success that most people don’t get in their ‘real lives,’ The question is “are video games hijacking the reward circuit or are they filling a primal need?”

  • Heidi Lindborg

    I really think someone should do a comparison of Problem Gaming and low Vitamin D levels. And the corollary experiment of treating obsessives with supplements. Seems like that might have more of a reality based effect on the nervous system.

  • TheBrett

    This fits with a widespread impression among gamers (and others) that both MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft, and online shooters like Call of Duty and Counterstrike, attract obsessive players.

    Yeah, that’s pretty much common knowledge in the gaming world. The bigger the reliance of the game on “twitch” skills and grinding, the more you’re going to attractive obsessive people who get off on that type of stuff.

  • zwagbog

    Everything that gives pleasure is addictive.
    And humans are social beings. Some more than others. Some prefer to cooperate, while others prefer to cultivate their narcissistic egos.

  • Nick Stuart

    ” In the old days, a game might require a lot of practice in order to get
    good enough to complete it, but they didn’t incentivize playtime per se.”

    unlike chess?

  • Nick Stuart

    This article is rubbish. How do musicians, sportsmen, artists or scientists achieve greatness? By cutting back on practice? Go back to being neuroskeptic. You wrote better stuff there…. 😉

    • Franklyn Anderson

      I agree, practice makes perfect but I think the point of the article is, it
      can become a problem when the time spent playing games impinges on other parts of your life and becomes detrimental. In other words, what is the point of spending so much time playing games other than to become good at the game?

      Musicians, sportsmen, artists or scientists can all make a living from what they do so it is worthwhile.

      • David Germain

        So Musicians, sportsmen, artists don’t do it for fun? how many people can play an instrument , draw or play football and never make money from it.
        There are some professional Computer Gamers…

  • John Doe

    This is weak stuff. WTF happened? When you were independent you wrote what you thought. This is lame.

    • Neuroskeptic

      There have always been posts like this… wait and see if they become more common. That would be a problem but I don’t plan on it

  • Pingback: Three Ways Video Games Can Improve Health Care : The Crux()



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Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.


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