April 20, 2009
Many Teen Pathological Video Game Players Found

Game abuse, a silent cancer eating away at the foundations of industrial electronic society.

AMES, Iowa -- Parents have been saying for years that their kids are "addicted" to video games, but a new study by an Iowa State University psychology professor is the first to actually report that pathological patterns of video game addiction exist in a national sample of youth, aged 8 to 18.

In a national Harris Poll survey of 1,178 American youths (ages 8-18), ISU Assistant Professor of Psychology Douglas Gentile found nearly one in 10 of the gamers (8.5 percent) to be pathological players according to standards established for pathological gambling -- causing family, social, school or psychological damage because of their video game playing habits.

"Although the general public uses the word 'addiction,' clinicians often report it as pathological use," said Gentile, who is also director of research for the Minneapolis-based National Institute on Media and the Family. "This is the first study to tell us the national prevalence of pathological play among youth gamers, and it is almost 1 in 10."

Don't look at suburban housing tracts as idyllic and happy places. Those manicured lawns hide epidemic levels of substance abuse whether the substance in question is video games or instant messaging phones. Kids are booting up, logging in, and dropping out.

Maybe the games fulfill a need for excitement in brains that crave it?

The study also found that pathological gamers were twice as likely to have been diagnosed with attention problems such as Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

But does video game addiction leave kids with little time to smoke pot or take crack cocaine? Do the evil demon video games compete with other forms of vice for attention? Or do they compete with wholesome, fulfilling, and constructive activities? Inquiring minds want to know.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 April 20 11:30 PM  Brain Addiction

Anonymous said at April 21, 2009 6:22 AM:

"Do the evil demon video games compete with other forms of vice for attention? Or do they compete with wholesome, fulfilling, and constructive activities?"

Yes. Like the Man said, the straight path is narrow. There are many ways to lose, if so to speak. Plentiful stimulants and computing power can certainly be used as tools to make losing cheaper and more appealing. Both also have obvious benefits. So now the costs are being quantified. This information makes for better economic decisions.

A more interesting question, to my mind, is whether these technologies (or the technology systems on which their production depends) are giving more benefit than harm to society. I call it interesting because it strangely distracts people from the idea that changing one's behavior and immediate surroundings is more efficient and moral than changing society to fit one's self. (Perhaps to put this into context, politically, I consider myself a "voluntaryist".)

I suppose you'd agree with that, Randall. I only digress because I don't find anything objectionable in the article (except maybe the part about poor grades and paying attention in school, because that resembles other evidence of systematic educational system failure to me). Your final query reminded me that this type of evidence, on the whole, isn't going to advance the layman's understanding of addictive behavior because they're going to be too busy figuring out who beside themelves is to blame.

Jim said at April 21, 2009 7:12 AM:

I'm a WOW player, 40 hours a week. During that time I'm at home and sober. If the wife needs me I can log out. It takes much longer to sober up, or even drive home. I have alarm timers to take a break and do exercises. I also do the cooking, dishes and grocery shopping at home.

I agree with the first post about competing attention for vice. I have to sacrifice to do this; I stopped watch television years ago. Non-interactive media is bland and unwatchable. I've tried watching the current sitcoms with my wife. How many hours of not laughing dose it take before another run in Alterac Valley looks like fun.

Kenneth Stevens said at April 21, 2009 9:05 AM:

I'll quote a slightly re-edited passage from something I posted last night on Half Sigma's blog, in respone to his remark that he was considering taking up World of Warcraft:

"A buddy of mine got divorced by his neglected blonde bombshell of a wife because he spent all his time in the den messing with World of Warcraft, and now, hundreds of thousands of dollars poorer but wiser, he has forsworn all gaming. And I know a gorgeous 29-year-old bellydancer in the process of leaving her clueless lawyer boyfriend over the exact same thing."

There are the old-fashioned population bottlenecks such as giant asteroid impacts, pandemics, and ice ages, and then there are the new-fangled kinds...

In said at April 21, 2009 9:43 AM:

I've often wondered if the decline in violence seen globally can be at least partially attributed to the plethora of distractions available to moderns. Internet, TV, Video Games, Sports, music, hobbies, etc., etc. These things suck peoples attention, perhaps to the extent that it prevents them from raising hell like they might have a generation or two ago.

There is another related hypothesis: That modern distractions have contributed to a decline in technological and scientific innovations. Would Einstein have figured out special relativity if he had an XBOX 360?

Lono said at April 21, 2009 10:23 AM:


I believe you are correct - studies have shown an inverse relationship between Video Game playing and Violence amongst American teens - even when they were primarily playing violent videogames.

(This makes sense as the time investment spent at home redcuces the "idle" time spent outside of the home)


As someone with ADD, and a gaming addiction, I have found it to be mostly a positive thing - as I use it to replace the desire to use illegal drugs - which while safe when used prudently have negative social consequences in America's modern near-totalitarian Federalist society.

Modern videogames provide much of the same intellectual stimulation as books, with their in depth stories and moral dillemas, and also provide the added benefit of increased visual acuity and hand/eye coordimation - and even (for some) a heightend ability to think strategically in all life situations.

I find, as long as videogame use is balanced with regular exercise and outdoor activity, that it is a most pleasing hobby.

Of course I am a funtional videogameaholic - and certainly there are some who reach the extreme in their addiction.

I believe those disfunctional addicts are predisposed to thier condition and removing videogames from the equation will simply cause another equally obsessive (and possibly more destructive) pastime to fill this roll in their lives - if they are left untreated.

Mthson said at April 21, 2009 11:04 AM:

Playing strategy video games while growing up helped build my mind around strategic & reductionist mindsets, which has been to my advantage in the free market.

jb said at April 21, 2009 11:31 AM:

The Romans had their orgies, the French their parties, the English their theatres, and we have our videogames to distract us as the more enterprising societies pass us by. Until they pick up their own distractions, and the cycle continues.

wrthofnino said at April 21, 2009 1:13 PM:

Wow, this article hits so close to home... I blog about this type of thing all the time over at my blogpage:


I am a recovering Wowaholic (yes, video games ARE an addiction), played for 2 years and almost lost my job, family and wife over my obsession. It was all I could think about, it dominated every waking moment of my conscious, (and unconscious at night), mind.

Yup, that's right... I'm not a kid. I'm 29 years old.

Yes, online gaming addiction DOES exist... but I continuously hear how horrible this addiction is for CHILDREN, (which I totally agree with, it IS horrible for children), but little is said on how this affects the majority of gamer addicts, those in MY age group.

Why isn't more said? Corporate shame at being addicted to "children's games", social outrage for the children being taken advantage of? Not sure, but I do believe this- don't let the little youngin's get hooked, or they'll end up like I almost did... thank GOD I broke out of that horrible obsession!

Still don't believe me that this addiction is real? Check out this website @ http://www.wowdetox.com... sad testimony to something so devastating and so misunderstood.


Anonymous said at April 21, 2009 1:15 PM:

I want to point out that the way Lono used "Federalist" is misleading, and it weakens his point. What he means to indicate is a centralization of government (in the body of the "federal" government), but the word has historically been used to contrast a unified government with the layered, decentralized government of the US or Australia. That's why the Federalist papers argue against a strong central government and the Anti-Federalists argued for other things, most notably a unified state, either as separate European-style States or a single one.

Sanjay said at April 21, 2009 5:31 PM:

I'm glad that Nintendo's Wii is introducing physical exercise into gaming. If this trend keeps up, then in 10 years we may have a generation of incredibly fit teens.

brent said at April 21, 2009 8:06 PM:

Video games provide a steady sense of achievement that real life lacks -- at least for many people. Why struggle and fight for recognition and status -- when you can get a steady achievement fix at home.

Yes, at a broader level the person realizes they are marginalizing themselves -- but the graduated challenge/reward system is good enough to fool the brain.

Video games are achievement porn. Obviously porn isn't sex, but it can satiate the need enough to prevent normal mate-seeking behavior. In the same way, video games can satiate the need for achievement and recognition. It's a false satiation, and the person knows it, but it's a close enough approximation that it stunts the normal drive to venture out and prove oneself in the real world.

Human nature didn't evolve for a world with endless video games and porn. In our evolutionary early human world, if you were seeing lots of images of naked women -- that could only mean you were doing great at reproducing and socializing. And if you were constantly mastering complex tasks and achieving difficult goals -- that meant you were an especially valuable member of the tribe and climbing the status ladder. The possibility that you were just sitting alone on your coach for all those experiences is just not something human nature is programmed to deal with.

Our brains really weren't built for the world we live in --- it's amazing anybody gets anything done.

Sanjay said at April 21, 2009 8:25 PM:

But crossword puzzles can be achievement porn, too. I see it as entertainment and distraction. Also, I find that after playing a session of Wii boxing, my reflexes are faster, my memory is sharper, I can recite ordinarily troublesome tongue-twisters with ease, and my typing and writing are faster. I think it's amazing how videogames can focus our minds on particular tasks, in ways that few other activities can.

Brett J said at April 22, 2009 9:48 AM:

I think video games are a complex sphere of potential positives and negatives. I've grown up playing video games, and am a socialable, healthy young adult. ("Ooh! Very impressive!") I have no doubt that the skills I've learned from the hours gaming have benefited my hand-eye coordination, strategic and tactical skills (as Mthson said --- both recognition of them and utilization), as well as a high degree of pattern learning and recognition (invaluable, as Mthson said again, in the modern world that requires weighing of complex situations and decisions). Games like Civilization gave me a deep, early grounding in broad historical information and context, and the many games that involved (or revolved around) negotiation developed diplomacy and cooperation skills - not to mention encouraging an intuition around technical devices (computers and consoles, both keeping close to the cusp of modern technological development) that remains to this day.

As with any new field, particularly one as interactive and rapidly-developing as video-gaming, both the risks and rewards will take years to sift out. There's no question that there's an "escapism" (whatever that means, in that it could be applied to a wide swath of the Arts and diversions of other kinds) to it, and the interactivity appears to increase the 'risk' of the young or those unconnected to a community can flee into. Nonetheless, the beginning-to-end structure of most traditional games act as a certain bulwark against this - its the interactive, challenge/reward structure that generally makes them appealing to play (and could lead some to become the only challenge/reward they seek, I suppose).

While someone may pour hours and hours into The Sims or Morrowind (an expansive, somewhat opened ended Role-Playing Game), it's with the advent of humans-playing-with-humans Multiplayer games, and their next rung of Massively-Multiplayer Online Games (such as World of Warcraft) that have raised the more significant specter of Gaming Addiction/"WoW Addiction." The makers of WoW have crafted, and continue to upkeep, a visually engaging, regularly rewarding game structure, within which _people can interact and accomplish goals with each other._ It is this, I feel, that leads to their life-dominating tendencies: WoW facilitates and encourages (though doesn't necessitate) the interaction with a community in the game. The gamer can work in this arena, building and using social capital with the other lively, endlessly unpredictable (the unpredictability being part what makes playing with other people versus AI so enjoyable) people who are living in the WoW world.

Note, I do not believe that WoW is a bad thing - I think Blizzard (the game's creator) has accomplished something remarkable with their finely tuned game mechanics and balanced world that continually works to undo the ways that the gamers in it try to take advantage of its quirks and features to their own advantage (a la real life...Madoff; repackaging stocks to achieve higher credit ratings, etc...). I don't think this should be held against them, but people should be aware that it is both a game, and something that encourages the gamer to invest their time in that community.

Video Games are an absolutely massive industry - outstripping fields such as film and television. Yet they still bear a disproportionately small impact on general societal recognition, thought, and discussion (owning in part, I'm sure, due to their associated with youth, and the relative newness of the field - particularly the more recent masterpieces that have gripping storytelling, great graphics, and a *highly* advanced sense of challenge/reward to keep the player engaging - particularly from some of the industry powerplayers like Valve, RockStar Games, and Blizzard). I am unsure when the breaking point will be reached, but at some point in the next decade or two, is my instinct, the attention they receive (as an industry, and as art) will increase dramatically.

(Forgive the length, I didn't go in to this planning to write an essay...)

Lono said at April 22, 2009 9:53 AM:


Yes - well - I was aware of the contradiction - but since the word "Federal" to me has become a dirty word, I thought it humorous to use as a insulting adjective.

But thank you for keeping me honest... I guess...



Thanks you for your testimony to your own VG addiciton - having an addictive personality disorder myself, I have been careful not to play WoW - or any similar type progressive achievement type game.

All the games I play are either session specific multiplayer - or have a definitive beginning an end.

I have actually had to be careful of fan based MODs for some games I enjoy - as they can add Hundred's of hours of new content - and one can become lost in such a near-unlimited virtual contest.

Randall Parker said at April 22, 2009 7:36 PM:

brent's comments are all excellent. We are status-seeking and mate-seeking by nature. Video games provide a way for people to seek status in an artificial imagined world rather than in a real world.

The problem is that we didn't evolve to handle video games, porn, cocaine, heroin, gambling, and other modern addictions and obsessions. Look at how much your energies get drained by useless addictive pursuits. Ask yourself how much you look for immediate gratifications that simulate the kinds of experiences you really want to have. Try to kick the habits that provide artificial and ultimately unsatisfying rewards.

Randall Parker said at April 22, 2009 10:32 PM:


I wonder whether video games have decreased the amount of good rock and roll getting made. Male youths who channel their aggressive into video games don't just avoid violence. They also don't have as much drive to play the guitar.

Lono said at April 23, 2009 10:08 AM:


You make a good point - certainly there is a trade off on how one's time is spent - but honestly, since I think most people are little more than high functioning animals - it is probably for the best that they are occupied with media and not left idle.

As someone who plays guitar myself, sure I have let my playing slide some, but that is more due to the soul-crushing monopoly of the music industry rather than my inability to manage my time between my addictive passions.

(and that monopoly is largely responsible for the decline in "good" rock and roll)

So - are videogmes merely a soma for the masses? - imho, no, like Brent I feel they are art and much more deep than that - but when used as a Soma for the masses - is that really so bad? - does it not, perhaps, make the common man just a little more cultured and more educated than he would be left to his own devices?

I think so!

Randall Parker said at April 23, 2009 6:41 PM:


How do video games make people more cultured? I've watched my nephews play some of their favorite video games and didn't find anything culturally enriching about those games. Are some culturally enriching? If so, which ones and how?

Lono said at April 24, 2009 8:23 AM:


Well... Perhaps I was being a little toungue in cheek - but like reading - videogames require active participation and do, over time, increase one's ability to think critically while also increasing one's vocabulary.

Certainly, again - like books - there is a large spectrum of complexity and depth amongst videogames - but even the most, casual, throw away game requires a minimal amount of strategy and puzzle solving as part of it's basic mechanics.

Although I do own a Wii console system, I tend to specialize in PC Video Games - with a current collection of over 330 games, and amongst that collection I have played amazing games, such as Deus Ex, which have an incredible amount of depth and ethical choices, where one's decisions and actions greatly affect the outcome of future events in the game.

On top of that there is nearly and endless supply of strategically complex war and simulation games that test the very limits of Human cognition.

I would contrast this to the common American cultural obsession with sports and sports trivia, which while also potentially intellectually stimulating, seems to do little to educate, or soften the vile and vuglar nature of the common man.

(and I think this is likely due to the passive nature of such a hobby, mostly viewed on TV or sitting in the stands, versus the froced participatory nature of videogames)

Randall Parker said at April 24, 2009 10:55 PM:


I tend to compare video games to what I do with my time rather than what the masses do with their time. If really smart people get sucked into video games that's a far bigger loss than if average people get sucked in.

What I want to know: Could one design an educational video game that would be very interesting to people who now play video games? Or would the educational elements distract from what people want from games?

Brett J said at April 25, 2009 11:23 AM:

Hi Randall - this may be of interest to you, RE: that question.
http://www.educationarcade.org/ - MIT run program studying the potentials for education and video game crossover.

Lono said at April 25, 2009 12:49 PM:


Well, several flight, resource management, and war simulations could easily already be considered educational videogames - and they are immensly popular, particularly on the PC.

I would argue that many nation building games - like the Civilization series - are excellent interactive tools for learning about world history and politics as well.

Therefore, yes, educational games can and do exist - but certainly if an educational or dogmatic message is shoe-horned awkardly into a videogame's mechanics - it's going to have little lasting appeal.

Your question about what society loses when "smart" people spend excessive time on videogames, or for that matter any other addictive hobby or vice, is probably more of a philosophical question.

Frankly until we (smart people) address the serious fundamental flaws in our current forms of governance around the globe, I feel petty politics serve as a far more dangerous barrier to technological progress, than say, the mismanagemnet of any particular indiviuals (or subset of individuals) free time.

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