3 big risk factors for video game addiction

People who play games to get away from their lives are at risk for getting stuck in a vicious cycle, says Joe Hilgard. "These gamers avoid their problems by playing games, which in turn interferes with their lives because they’re so busy playing games." (Credit: Kevin Simpson/Flickr)

A desire to escape problems, socialize, and seek rewards can fuel video game addiction among adults, whether they are hardcore or casual players, new research shows.

“The biggest risk factor for pathological video game use seems to be playing games to escape from daily life,” says Joe Hilgard, a doctoral candidate in the department of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri.

(Credit: Cory Schmidtz/Flickr)
(Credit: Cory Schmidtz/Flickr)


“Individuals who play games to get away from their lives or to pretend to be other people seem to be those most at-risk for becoming part of a vicious cycle.

“These gamers avoid their problems by playing games, which in turn interferes with their lives because they’re so busy playing games.”

Problematic video game use is more than just excessive playing; it also includes a variety of unhealthy behaviors, such as lying to others about how much time is spent playing games and missing work or other obligations.

Pressure to play

“People who play games to socialize with other players seem to have more problems as well,” Hilgard says. “It could be that games are imposing a sort of social obligation on these individuals so that they have to set aside time to play with other players.

“For example, in games like ‘World of Warcraft,’ most players join teams or guilds. If some teammates want to play for four hours on a Saturday night, the other players feel obligated to play or else they may be cut from the team. Those play obligations can mess with individuals’ real-life obligations.

“Gamers who are really into getting to the next level or collecting all of the in-game items seem to have unhealthier video-game use,” Hilgard says.

“When people talk about games being ‘so addictive,’ usually they’re referring to games like ‘Farmville’ or ‘Diablo’ that give players rewards, such as better equipment or stronger characters, as they play. People who are especially motivated by these rewards can find it hard to stop playing.”

By understanding someone’s motives for playing video games, researchers, game developers, and consumers can learn why certain games attract certain individuals.

“Researchers have suspected that Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) are the most addictive genre of video games,” Hilgard says. “Our study provides some evidence that supports that claim.

Triple threat

“The games provide opportunities for players to advance levels, to join teams, and to play with others. In addition, the games provide enormous fantasy worlds that gamers can disappear into for hours at a time and forget about their problems.

“MMORPGs may be triple threats for encouraging pathological game use because they present all three risk factors to gamers.”

“Consistent with previous research, we did not find a perfect relationship between total time spent playing games and addictive video game behaviors,” says study co-author Christopher Engelhardt, a postdoctoral research fellow in the department of health psychology.

“Additionally, other variables, such as the proportion of free time spent playing video games, seem to better predict game addiction above and beyond the total amount of time spent playing video games.”

The journal Frontiers in Psychology published the findings.

Source: University of Missouri