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Gaming addiction is on the rise in adolescents due to COVID-19 pandemic

The research team say the findings are important as they highlight the need for preventative initiatives, early treatment approaches, and mental health services to those struggling to cope with the burden of the pandemic.

Video game use and addiction severity has increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for young adolescents – according to pioneering research from Birkbeck, Southwest University, University of California, and Nottingham Trent University. 

The researchers also found that pre-pandemic levels of depressive and anxiety symptoms predicted greater video game use and gaming addiction (also referred to as Internet Gaming Disorder [IGD]) severity during the pandemic period.

Researcher Dr Halley Pontes, from Birkbeck’s Department of Organizational Psychology, said: “Perhaps unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen a significant rise in the popularity and use of video gaming in both children and adolescents. However, in our study we found that only adolescents showed greater severity of gaming addiction during the COVID-19 pandemic in comparison to the pre-pandemic period. 

“We believe that the reasons for this may be that when adolescents are faced with COVID-19 pandemic-related stress, they may select negative coping strategies leading to the development of IGD by gaming excessively. Our findings also seem to suggest that children may have benefited more from closer parental supervision and monitoring during the pandemic as they are generally more likely to obey their parents than adolescents.

"Although the study did not include British participants and the results may not directly reflect the reality of the UK, they certainly provide valuable insights for better understanding the potential developmental challenges of youth globally as gaming and digital technology use become increasingly pervasive due to the pandemic.

“Gaming addiction was formally recognised as an official mental health disorder by the World Health Organisation in May 2019. It is important that, regardless of their age, those who partake in gaming should be conscious of the amount of time they spend on gaming activities and should seek specialist advice and help if they are experiencing changes in their physical or psychological health and social functioning that could be attributed to their gaming behaviour.” 

The study involved 1,778 children and adolescents (57% male, 43% female) from eight Chinese schools in Southwest China. Data was collected on perceived COVID-19 impacts, video game use, IGD, and depressive and anxiety symptoms. The children and adolescents were surveyed twice: before the COVID-19 pandemic (October to November 2019) and during the COVID-19 pandemic (April to May 2020). 

The research was funded by the Fundamental Research for the Central Universities, the China Postdoctoral Science Foundation and the Chongqing Special Postdoctoral Science Foundation. 

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