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When does gaming become a problem?

Researchers have developed the first test to tell you how your gaming habits compare with the rest of the population, and are now looking at how socioeconomic factors and personality traits may contribute to the development of 'gaming disorders'.

Addiction to video games has recently been recognised as a new type of mental illness by the World Health Organisation (WHO), one associated with extreme cases of uncontrolled gaming behaviour and excessive game playing. In line with the criteria developed by the WHO, researchers have developed the first psychological test to check for ‘gaming disorder’– which they now plan to expand to produce the largest study to date on the condition.

Now available to the public and accessible online, the test can tell participants if they meet the WHO criteria for gaming disorder. The results will provide gamers with feedback on their video game habits in comparison with the rest of the population.

Lead researcher Dr Bruno Schivinski, Lecturer in Marketing at Birkbeck, said: “We want to understand the point at which gaming becomes a health problem, and which factors contribute to the development of gaming disorders, exploring sociodemographic variables, personality and motivations. We hope there will be thousands of participants in the next phase of the study.”

Anyone who can no longer control their gaming behaviour, prioritises computer games over other activities and does not change this behaviour despite negative consequences could be suffering from gaming disorder according to the WHO definition. A pattern of gaming behaviour which has had a significant impairment in family life, education or work performance must have been evident for a minimum of 12 months in order to meet the criteria.

A 34 year old male who took the test, and wishes to remain anonymous, said: “I had no idea I was playing [video games] too much… no one says anything about that, you know? You just keep playing and everything is fine… 

“I was playing every day for six hours or more after getting home from work. I was not sleeping much, not going out with friends, not eating much, and when working from home, I was not doing anything but playing games. That is not good, I am changing it now, but it is not easy without support."

The test has been trialled on an initial group of over 550 participants from Great Britain and China, with the results published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. This found that the prevalence of gaming behaviour did not differ significantly between the British and Chinese groups, and that on average, gamers played for 12 hours a week; and that almost half of this gaming time (46%) occurred alone on weekends. A total of 36 participants (6.4%) reported major problems in everyday life due to their gaming behaviour and could therefore fulfil the WHO's diagnostic criteria.

“Excessive video gaming is already a serious health risk in Asian countries and an emerging problem in Europe. In order to conduct large international studies, we designed the new instrument in a cross-cultural way and tested it in China and Great Britain”, explains Professor Christian Montag, head of the Department of Molecular Psychology at Ulm University.

ESL, the largest esports company, with close ties to the gaming community, is helping to recruit further test participants. Rodrigo Samwell, CMO at ESL said: “ESL wants to support responsible gaming. We believe in a world where everybody can be somebody and being somebody means you can be dedicated to the game but also to your family and achieve a positive gaming-life balance. As the leader in the esports market we want to contribute to responsible gaming, and that is why we are supporting this study to help individuals understand better their behaviours towards gaming.”

The researchers are from Birkbeck, University of London, Beijing University in China, the University of Electrocis Science and Technology in China and the Medical Faculty of the University of Tasmania in Australia.

Further Information

Dr Schivinski currently teaches on the following modules: