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Gaming addiction a symptom of mental health problems, not a cause © Joe Giddens/PA

Gaming addiction a symptom of mental health problems, not a cause

Published: 18th October, 2019 at 11:42
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Existing fears are "exaggerated", researchers claim.

There is little evidence to suggest that gaming addiction is a clinically unhealthy habit for young people, scientists claim, calling existing fears “exaggerated”.


Researchers from Oxford University and Cardiff University believe obsessive gamers are likely to have underlying frustrations and wider psychosocial functioning issues away from consoles.

After studying more than 1,000 players and their caregivers, they think excessive gaming could actually be a symptom of underlying frustrations in life, rather than a cause.

“If you’re playing games in a potentially unhealthy way, is this a cause for your problems or is this just another symptom? Are you blaming your runny nose for the fact you got sick?” Professor Andrew Przybylski, director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute and co-author of the research, told PA.

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“What we found was, if you feel like you don’t have good relationships and you don’t have a sense of choice in your life and you don’t feel confident...

“That, over and above anything that happens in the gaming world, is going to predict whether or not you have emotional problems, whether or not you have peer problems, whether or not you get into fights or you feel hyperactivity, so what we found was a whole lot of nothing basically.

“Online games, if you play them out of a sense of compulsion, that’s probably more likely to be a symptom of what’s going on, rather than a cause.”

According to the research, less than half of daily online gamers exhibited symptoms of obsessive gaming, with players clocking an average of three hours a day.

Why screen time isn't always bad

Whether it’s poor mental health, sleep deprivation or social isolation, staring at screens, so the headlines go, is intrinsically, unequivocally, bad for us.

When you dig into the research, however, a subtler story emerges.

A recent study at Oxford University suggested that if you were to tell a researcher how much time you spend on screens, it would only allow them to predict less than half a per cent of your wellbeing (a finding which seems to be consistent with other studies).

To put this into perspective, the team found that eating potatoes had about the same effect on wellbeing as screen time.

Read the full analysis here

Participants in the study were asked to provide details about their gaming behaviour, such as how long they spend playing and who with, while parents and guardians rated their child’s emotional and social health.

Prof Przybylski warned that gaming companies need to share more data about gaming habits in order to fully understand the situation.

“Gaming companies need to be brought on board,” he continued.

“I can’t collect really great data and know what these kids are doing in online spaces because that data is privately held, so I have to take kids’ word for it.”

The World Health Organisation describes “gaming disorder” as a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour so severe that it takes “precedence over other life interests”.

Dr Netta Weinstein, co-author and senior lecturer the University of Cardiff’s School of Psychology, said: “We urge healthcare professionals to look more closely at the underlying factors such as psychological satisfactions and everyday frustrations to understand why a minority of players feel like they must engage in gaming in an obsessive way.”

The study is published in the Clinical Psychological Science journal.


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Sara RigbyOnline staff writer, BBC Science Focus

Sara is the online staff writer at BBC Science Focus. She has an MPhys in mathematical physics and loves all things space, dinosaurs and dogs.


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