The Problem With Pathological Gaming Studies

Is gaming addiction a real psychological affliction that should be recognised by the American Psychiatric Association? According to some studies as many as 10 per cent of all gamers could be considered gaming addicts. A new study from Texas A&M's Christopher J. Ferguson explains how those studies are doing it wrong.

Christopher J. Ferguson isn't a champion of gaming, but he is a champion of making sure other researchers are doing their job effectively. Much like he and his team recently did with studies on video game violence and depression, his recently-published article "A meta-analysis of pathological gaming prevalence and comorbidity with mental

health, academic and social problems" seeks to set the record somewhat straighter on gaming addiction through the use of meta-analysis.

What is meta-analysis? It's where a group of researchers gather up all of the research on a particular subject and analyse the results to see whether or not the existing research is getting the job done, and in the case of video game addiction it clearly is not.

While children that play video games might have brains like gamblers, that doesn't mean their gaming habits should be measured the same as a gambling addiction. This is one of the glaring issues Ferguson and friends uncovered during their analysis of thirty-three published studies and doctoral dissertations covering the subject.

Lacking any real baseline to go off of, many researchers attempt to apply the same questions used in analysing gambling addition to measure video game addiction.

Questions such as "I argue with my family about my video game habits" or "I think about video games even while I'm not playing them" or "I use video games to relax" may not represent pathological behaviour for gamers, may evidence little or no association with negative outcomes, and indeed may be normative, while their original wording is still indicative of a problematic obsession in gamblers.

"Aw mum, I don't want to stop playing Xbox yet" is very different from "Sorry honey, I lost our wedding rings in a game of Texas Hold-Em."

The approach that seems to work better for measuring potential gaming addiction is the Interference method, in which researchers measure how much gaming interferes with normal daily tasks, such as doing homework, going to work, or spending time with the family. The problem with this method is that it's removed from any established diagnostic framework, indicating an overall lack of consistency.

Ferguson and friends also analysed a third type of study that measured pathological gaming purely in terms of hours played. These studies might be useful in providing some insight into how much time gaming takes away from other activities, the lack of specific interference data means they aren't very helpful overall.

By combining all of the studies, Ferguson's meta-analysis came up with an average prevalence of pathological gaming of some six per cent. After thorough analysis, this report suggests that the Interference method's figure of 3.1 per cent.

The report concludes with several suggestions that could help pathological gaming studies be more accurate in the future, including a strong focus on Interference and more longitudinal studies, while cautioning other researchers from making potentially dangerous statements until we nail down how to nail gaming addiction down.

...we caution researchers from making expansive statements regarding problematic gaming and its ‘potential harm' until further data is collected. This is not to say we fail to acknowledge the potential harm of problematic gaming; rather the current research rigour is not capable of supporting conclusive statements.

Journal of Psychiatric Research Volume 45, Number 12 [Elsevier]


Comments

    This is an interesting article. I'm not sure I think the research of pathological gambling is particularly good either, but this article makes a clear case that research of pathological gaming is really poor - their no attempt to actually link habitual gaming with problem gaming, even the latter should be the one that raises concerns. I have a habit of washing myself every morning, shower to relax and often think about washing myself (when I've been working out). Doesn't make it a problem behavior.

    Those questions could probably apply to watching television, playing soccer or liking Sci-Fi movies.

      And.... MURDER...

      “I argue with my family about my murdering habits”
      “I think about murder even while I’m not murdering people”
      “I use murder to relax”

    Anything can be addictive and really if what you want to do starts interfering with your life to an extent where you forsake everything else to get your "fix" then it's a severe addiction. Just because gaming addiction might not be as socially destructive in general to say a gambling addiction, does not mean it is not a serious problem for some people. Korea is a prime example...people dying cause they game for stupidly long sessions.

    Good to see someone is at least looking at clarifying the diagnoses process and not just applying the "Games/Drugs are bad M'kay" method.

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