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Game addiction is a mental disorder characterized by 1) intense feelings of pleasure and guilt when playing the game, 2) obsession about the game even when not playing, 3) interference with social, family, and work life, 4) anger or other signs of withdrawal when prevented from playing the game, and 5) an uncontrollable feeling to play the game. [1] It can apply to people who play either or both video and computer games.

Game addiction - is it real?

Game addiction as a disorder

The APA's viewpoint

Game addiction is not recognized as a formal mental pathology in the DSM. In 2007, the American Psychiatric Association reviewed whether they should include "game addiction" as part of the DSM 2012, but rejected the idea, saying that there is not conclusive evidence to support that it is truly a mental disorder. [2]

The public viewpoint

Although not recognized as a formal disorder, there is an increasing amount of concern in the public about the negative effects of excessive gaming. There are also more researchers conducting surveys and experiments to find out more about the possible disorder.

Media Coverage

  • 2011: the National Geographic Channel aired an episode of Taboo on the topic of addiction.

The show specifically focused on children in Korea, who are put into a government-funded rehabilitation center (The Internet Rescue School) for a 12-day program. The first 2-3 days are typically spent in denial, where the children insist that they are not addicted to the Internet or online gaming. However over the program, the children engage in physical activities that will re-teach them how to interact with others face-to-face and talk with counselors to see how they can divert their attention away from online gaming to other activities. The parents also teach the parents of the children on how they can help their children end their addiction. Experts believe that the typical Korean household structure contributes to the growing "gaming epidemic." Many families in Korea only have one child, breeding the loneliness of the child. The child is able to take his mind of off the loneliness by playing and interacting with other online, in the safe confines of the home. [3]


Children are increasingly vulnerable to game addiction, due to the salience of computer use in public and at home.

In the case of Korea, the typical one-child structure of modern families isolates the child from other activities and playing with siblings and parents who work. To fill in the feeling of isolation, many children turn to the Internet to chat or to play Massively Multi-player Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs). Parents believe that it is a cheap form of entertainment and do not express concern or limit play at much of the early stage of addiction.

The structure of the games themselves also encourage addiction, as players are able to gain levels and win more loot by increased playing time or involvement in virtual guilds. The feeling of satisfaction as they gain levels is also a notable source of reinforcement. There is a snowball effect as these factors enhance each other, eventually leading to full-fledged addiction. [3] [4]

There are several theories as to the cause of addiction, not limited to game addiction: [4]

  • Moral choice/Free will: people who have low willpower and moral standards become addicted
  • Genetic basis: "addiction gene" and "addictive personality" causes addiction
  • Learned behavior/Social learning: children observe and mimic the behavior of those around them
  • Disease model: dopamine release, similar to drug and substance addicts, reinforces the addiction behavior


Diagnosis and treatment of game addiction


  • Back and neck aches
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Dry eyes
  • Failure to eat or take care of personal hygiene
  • Headaches
  • Sleep disturbances

Diagnostic Questionnaire

Dr. Kimberley Young, recognized as the "world's foremost cyber-psychologist," developed a questionnaire to diagnose whether a person has game addiction. The questionnaire is as follows, and anyone can do it on their own to gauge their gaming activities:

  1. Do you need to play (online) games with increasing amounts of time in order to achieve the desired excitement?
  2. Are you preoccupied with gaming (thinking about it offline, anticipating your next online session)?
  3. Have you lied the friends and family members to conceal extent of your (online) gaming?
  4. Do you feel restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop (online) gaming?
  5. Have you made repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop (online) gaming?
  6. Do you use gaming as a way of escaping from problems or relieve feelings of helpfulness, guilt, anxiety, or depression?
  7. Have you jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, or even risked your marriage because of your (online) gaming habits?
  8. Have you jeopardized a job, educational, or career opportunity because of your gaming habits?

Answering yes to any of the above indicates that a person may be addicted to games. [5]

Griffith's Criteria

Mark D. Griffiths, a prominent psychologist in the field of gambling and addiction, has established five criteria for Internet addiction. Although not constrained to gaming activities, it covers most of the symptoms exhibited by game addicts, and is a useful measure. [6]

  1. Salience: Using the Internet dominates the person’s life, feelings and behavior.
  2. Mood modification: The person experiences changes in mood (e.g. a ‘buzz’) when using the Internet.
  3. Tolerance: Increasing amounts of Internet use are needed to achieve the same effects on mood.
  4. Withdrawal symptoms: If the person stops using the Internet, they experience unpleasant feelings or physical effects.
  5. Relapse: The addict tends to relapse into earlier patterns of behavior, even after years of abstinence or control.

Treatment Methods

There are two phases to game addiction treatment:

  1. Reduce the rewards from playing games
  2. Increase the rewards from doing other activities

Thus, the primary method is not withdrawal, but gradually weaning the addict from playing games.

An example of first-phase treatment occurs in China, where they limit the amount of experience points a player can gain after 3 hours. All registered players under 18 years old gain half as many experience points after 3 hours of play, and no points at all after 5 points of play. Although such a serious measure directly changing the game infrastructure is rare, it is successful in reducing the rewards from the game. However, new problems arise as players find ways to deceive the system, using identities of parents and others to fake their ages. [4]

An example of second-phase treatment is to promote participation in other activities, especially for children and young adults. Interaction with others promotes positive feelings and less dependence on game activities for pleasure.

Treatment Resources

Notable game addiction incidents

See Also


  1. National Institute on Media and the Family (2007). "Mediawise Network Parent Guide to Video Game Addiction". Mediawise.
  2. Tanner, Lindsey (22 June 2007). "Is video-game addiction a mental disorder?". Associated Press.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Taboo. "Gaming Addiction". The National Geographic Channel.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Woog, Kenneth. "Computer Gaming Addiction in Adolescents and Young Adults, Solutions for Moderating and Motivating for Success". Pepperdine University. Lecture.
  5. Young, Kimberley. 2010. "Signs of Internet Addiction." The Center for Internet Addiction.
  6. Griffiths, M. D. (1998) 'Internet addiction: does it really exist?' in Gackenbach, J. (ed), Psychology and the Internet. New York: Academic Press, pp. 61-75.

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