********I know this is a wall of text, but this is a research paper after all. Thought it could be interesting to some of you.*********
The goal of this research is to inform the reader about an abnormal psychological condition called video game dependency. Though it is not currently rated as a psychological disorder by the primary diagnostic medium of psychiatrists known as the DSM-IV-TR, it will be my goal to argue why it should be classified as one. In order to do this I will compare video game dependency to similar disorders which are already classified in the DSM-IV-TR, inform the reader of symptoms associated with video game dependency, illustrate how they hinder a normal lifestyle, and mention risk factors for the disorder.
In recent years games have become more interactive, and more realistic then they have ever been before. All of the modern game consoles, and of course PC’s are able to get online, and with advances in high speed internet: communication with other players, uploading of complex graphics, and catchy in game music becomes immediately accessible. “[R]ealism can impact one’s internal state because the unrealistic video games may appear ‘‘cartoonish’’ to players, because the events could never really happen. The impact of perceived realism has been shown to moderate the effect between exposure to violence in children’s media and aggressive behavior.” (Barlett 215)
What constitutes normal from abnormal behavior are four factors. The first of these four factors is called deviance. Deviance is measured with regard to norms, which are society’s rules for proper conduct. The second is distress. Is the behavior causing a physiological change such as elevated heart rate, mania, panic, or shaking? The third is dysfunction. Does the afflicted person obsess? Are they distracted from work, and other important daily functioning such as school or hygiene? The most prevalent of the four is danger. Is the abnormal functioning causing poor diet, anger, thoughts of suicide or murder? A person with video game dependency will shows signs of risk factors in all four places to look for abnormal functioning. “VGD is accompanied by increased levels of psychological and social stress in the form of lower school achievement, increased truancy, reduced sleep time, limited leisure activities, and increased thoughts of committing suicide.” (Thomas 269)
The difference between someone who uses video games as a coping mechanism by means of escapism versus someone who is dependent on playing video games is quite different. A dependant player is one who will disregard responsibilities, and/or relationships to play a game, and will often obsess about playing and lie about how often they actually are playing, where video game play used as a coping mechanism can be merely for the purpose of a temporary escape, which can be more adaptive than other negative forms of coping.
Unfortunately once a person learns how to maladaptively cope with their problems by playing video games; it is easy for it to become habitual, as is any other form of coping because it is easier oftentimes to mask our pain then to deal with it directly. Behavioral psychologists would argue that because players are getting rewarded for playing video games that they would seek to continually perpetuate the reward, which would lead to more game play especially in times of increased stress.
There may be other underlying problems in a person who chooses to escape from their problems by playing video games. Using harmful coping mechanisms such as avoidance of real life problems by escaping into the world of video games over time can prove to be more and more harmful over time. Medication may not be necessary from a psychodynamic point of view but a person might be originally drawn to video games as a means from escaping reality, and thusly represses the harmful thoughts and feelings that drew them into the game to begin with. These repressed thoughts and feelings could be building up inside of them, and could lead to psychological disorders such as video game disorder in the future while they are running from reality.
“Video games can satisfy a wide number of individual psychological needs and, because of their interactive structures, give rise to an intense experience of gratification in the user.” (Thomas 269) Maladaptive coping, however, occurs when a gamer uses the immense freedom in a video game as means of escape from aspects of their real life, or their personality which they are not happy with; and when you can hide the traits about yourself which you do not like by creating a character who is strong, versus actually being weak, dependant, or unattractive person; it is easy to see the appeal of throwing away an identity you perceive as being less interesting, in lieu of becoming a hero who saves the world, and always gets the girl.
“[I]t is logical to suggest that one reason some individuals spend more time playing the game is to avoid face-to-face social situations in which they may lack the proper skills to foster good relationships. Furthermore, if the individual were rejected in these situations, it would likely cause them distress … the individuals may seek social connections in a safer environment: the environment of MMORPG guilds. This is evident when players become better friends with their online guild mates than with their “real-life” friends.” (Peters 482)
MMORPG’s are an especially high risk type of video game play. The world’s most popular MMORPG is called World of Warcraft, often referred to as WOW. “World of Warcraft is an extremely popular MMORPG with over 9 million players worldwide at the time of this writing … guild members typically are required by their guild leaders to spend at minimum of 20 hours a week playing the game.” (Peters 481)
To be classified as video game dependant a gamer must play on average of four or more hours per day, and having a minimum of 20 hours of game play per week certainly brings this population close to that number. There are even help based communities online such as www.wowdetox.com where there are over fifty-thousand testimonials of ex-players of the game about how it was negatively affecting their life. Another popular community is called www.gamerwidow.com which seeks to help couples through the jaws of video game dependency. “[U]sers of role-playing games were significantly more addicted than users of other games , that MMORPG users had a tendency to spend much more time playing than non-MMORPG players , and that there was a positive correlation between the amount of time spent playing an MMORPG game and the likelihood of problematic usage of the game .” (Pauline 121)
“What separates RPGs from other character-driven entertainment media is this internalization and psychological merging of a player’s and a character’s mind” (Lewis 515) In MMORPGs “the player must decide a character’s race, its species, history, heritage, and philosophy.” (Young 357) Psychologically, whether the player is aware of it or not, at the very beginning, they are creating an avatar which will more prominently bring out perceived positive aspects of their personality, while simultaneously hiding negative parts of their personality.
“[T]he relevance of interactive entertainment media as leisure time activity has grown considerably both for youths and adults … computer ownership among adolescents’ ages 12 to 19 increased from 35% to 71% from 1998 to 2008, and ownership of gaming consoles increased from 23% to 45%.” (Thomas 269) “2.8% are classified as being at risk and 1.7% as being dependent on video games. Mainly boys are affected: 4.7% of them are at risk and 3% are dependent. (Thomas 272)
Video game dependency is very similar to a DSM-IV-TR disorder underneath the heading of impulse control disorders known as pathological gambling. “[V]ideo games in their very conception show a structural similarity to gambling and, as a consequence, are suspected of bearing a similar psychotropic dependency risk for some people.” (Thomas 269) Because these two disorders are so similar with regard to their symptoms, it seems as though video game dependency should be more heavily researched with regard to putting it into the DSM-IV-TR. “People with this disorder cannot walk away from a bet, and are restless and irritable if gambling is denied them … and the gambling continues even in the face of financial, social, and health problems.” (Comer 520)
People affected by pathological dependencies like video game dependency and gambling typically demonstrate several behaviors which progressively get worse with time as dependency reaches its peak. “People with these impulse-control disorders (such as pathological gambling) fail to resist an impulse, drive, or temptation to perform acts.” (Comer 520) First the afflicted person will show problems limiting their use; the usage will then become compulsive and in a worst case scenario will result in life-damaging consequences, such as the loss of a relationship or a job due to the inability of the afflicted person having no motivation to do anything other than play video games.
“[P]laying video games activates the basal ganglia portion of the brain, the region that releases dopamine … The problem is that release means there is less dopamine available when the child needs to perform other, less enjoyable tasks, such as homework.” (Costa 55) Video game dependants are repeatedly triggering a dopamine release when playing games, and over long periods of time they are conditioning themselves to only have this release while playing games, which leads to lower levels of production of dopamine during times when they need it in other aspects of their life.
This accounts for their obsessive desire to play the games, and difficulty focusing on other tasks such as school and work, allowing them to only be happy when they return to play the game again and again. “People no longer judge their behavior against acceptable personal or social standards for “normal” amounts of game play and no longer apply self-reactive influences, such as self-administered rewards for moderating consumption or indulging feelings of guilt for excessive play.” (Lee 634)
Video games can also be an expensive hobby, and just like other forms of dependency all sense of reason goes out the window when the newest, greatest, and latest game or expansion to a current game is released. For example, those who play WOW pay $15 per month to keep their account active, and those who have been with the game since the beginning have paid up to $40 for their original software, not to mention the expansions, strategy guides, and gaming accessories associated with the game, and this is only one game for the pc. Think of the multiple consoles with exclusive software, the controllers, cooling systems, and expanded hard drives. Video game dependents are going to find any way financially to keep their MMORPG accounts active, and the newest games off the shelf and in their hands, letting more important expenditures fall to the wayside.
Maladaptive forms of thinking self justify that this new game will be able to take you back to the “best” gaming experience you had, and because of this underlying thought you may decide that even though it isn’t particularly economical to spend $60 on a new video game, your conscious thought process is overridden by the underlying unconscious thought pattern which seeks it. “[T]heir self-regulation becomes deficient and self-regulatory functions of judgment process and self-reactive influence cease to moderate their gaming behavior.” (Lee 634)
Gamers are forever seeking the first high they had with the medium that submersed their consciousness into a fantasy world that overrode their sense of worry or anxiety about the real world. Interestingly enough a whole different subset of senses of worry and anxiety can occur when one becomes highly involved in a world of gaming as well. With regard to violent video game play several studies have been done to attempt to determine if such play increases aggression in the user.
An author of one such article suggests “[i]t is possible, for example that the correlation between game-play and behavior reflects backwards causation; aggressive people may be attracted to computer games.” (Chumbley 309) I do not agree with this information, as there are higher sample size studies with regard to the study of elevated levels of aggression while playing violent video games; however this study only uses 33 participants, which is barely statistically relevant, as N (population) must be <=31 to be considered so.
A larger sample study of 295 suggests “exposure to violent games increased the acceptance of physical aggression as a conflict-solving strategy as reflected in the normative beliefs measure.” (Moller and Krahe 86) Being a video game player myself, I can definitely attest to higher levels of frustration, and physiological response (increased heart rate, perspiration) while playing violent or non-violent video games…especially if I am not achieving the goals I set out to accomplish, or am losing badly to an online opponent. Anyone who has heard voice chat over Halo can attest to this as well.
A new layer of psychological disorders originating from media over usage in the DSM-IV needs to be developed. “Like other forms of potentially addictive computer use, VGD has not been clinically accepted so far. In 2007, the application to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association was still assessed negatively with the note that the database for such a step was not yet sufficiently secured.” (Thomas 270)
Once finalized criteria by which the disorder can be diagnosed have been agreed upon research and funding would increase in order to find a cure. Some interesting research that has been made to attempt to qualify terminology by means of creating a diagnosis is as follows: “[P]roblem video game use could be distinguished on the basis of (i) preoccupation with and craving for playing video games, negative emotional reactions to the abstinence from playing, and loss of control over playing; and (ii) various detrimental consequences of playing video games.” (Pauline 121)
Unfortunately there are no current ways to diagnose a media derived psychological problem such as video game dependency at this current point in time, but the first step in the battle to help gamers get off the proverbial sauce is to establish some grounds by which their psychological problems can be identified, and to create methods of therapy to help dependant gamers whether that be by dealing with the psychological issues which drove them to using video games as a coping mechanism, or perhaps a biological chemical imbalance which requires medication to moderate.
In conclusion, video games are now a source of entertainment for people of all ages and backgrounds, and compromise a huge percentage of our society. It is important for us to research their affect on human psychology in more depth. By classifying video game dependency as a legitimate disorder in the DSM-IV-TR psychologists would be more encouraged to study these effects, and create meaningful therapy to help combat the disorder / prevent it from occurring.
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