How common is it for young people to play in such a way that they can be said to be addicted to computer games? What are the concerns associated with a computer game addiction? How can a healthy but great gaming interest be distinguished from those who are addicted to computer games? A research study from Germany gives us some answers.
Previous studies on computer game addiction
The studies that have been done previously in order to investigate how widespread computer game addiction is have reported very different figures. In large surveys with representative samples around the world [1-3], it has been found that between 1.7 and 8.5% of young people meet the criteria for Internet Gaming Disorder (possible future diagnosis of computer game addiction).
As the numbers have been so different and several of the studies have been carried out in other parts of the world with cultures that differ from ours, it has been difficult to say anything about the computer game problem in all world.
Internet Gaming Disorder among young people in Germany
In 2015, however, a research group from Germany and the United States published the largest current study on the subject, in which they examined computer game addiction among 11,003 ninth-graders in Germany (average age 15 years).
This study is interesting to us for several reasons. On the one hand, the study is very well conducted with a large number of participants, and on the other hand, we can assume that the differences between Korea and Germany should not be too great. For those who are interested, here is a short summary of the study.
Questions about computer games, sleep and schooling
The researchers used a standardized questionnaire based on the recommended criteria used for Internet Gaming Disorder in the latest edition of the DSM diagnostic manual. The purpose of the study was partly to investigate how widespread computer gaming addiction (IGD) is among young people, and partly to investigate how well different criteria are linked to the diagnosis of IGD.
The young people were asked to take a position on 18 questions related to Internet Gaming Disorder (two for each diagnostic criterion) according to the answer options strongly disagree, somewhat disagree, somewhat agree, and strongly agree. The people who chose “strongly agree” for five criteria or more were classified with Internet Gaming Disorder.
In addition to these questions, the young people had to answer questions about the extent of gambling, difficulty sleeping, school performance, school absence with or without connection to gambling, and whether they themselves considered themselves addicted to computer games.
Computer game addiction almost eight times as common among guys
1.16% of young people were classified with internet gaming disorder – 2% of boys and 0.26% of girls . Computer game addiction, or IGD, was almost 8 times as common among boys as among girls.
The researchers report that the proportion of young people who were classified as addicted to computer games in this study is slightly lower than in many other studies and that a probable explanation is that in this study stricter requirements were used for diagnosis (which in our opinion is preferable).
More playing time, higher school absenteeism & difficulty sleeping
Average playing time per day was about four times as high for those with IGD, 6 hours and 15 minutes compared to 1h 30min for those without IGD.
The students who were classified with Internet Gaming Disorder had about 4 times as high school absenteeism and it was much more common than they had absences related to computer games in the last 6 months (67% probability compared to 4% for those without IGD). Furthermore, they more often reported sleep problems and poorer school grades.
Not surprisingly, people classified with IGD more often reported themselves as computer game addicts compared to those who did not meet the criteria for IGD.
Diagnosis of computer game addiction
What is important to assess if a person is addicted to computer games compared to having only a great interest in games?
Internet Gaming Disorder is included in the diagnosis manual as a possible future diagnosis, in need of more research. Researchers are therefore interested in testing the criteria proposed to see how well they work and whether there is reason to modify parts of them.
In the mentioned study, they chose to examine the criteria by looking at how well each of them corresponded with Internet Gaming Disorder as a whole. It was then found that fulfillment of the criterion “give up other activities in favor of gambling” corresponded best with the diagnosis as a whole. For those who met this criterion, the probability of being classified as a computer game addict (IGD) was 45%.
The diagnostic criterion was measured based on the questions ‘Because of my computer gaming, I enjoy other activities less than before’ and ‘I gave up or spend less time with other hobbies because computer games are more important to me, where the answer option “strongly agree” on one of the statements was enough.
If the criterion for ‘tolerance’ was also met, the probability of being diagnosed with IGD increased to 89%. Tolerance was measured with the questions ‘I feel that computer games are becoming more and more important to me’ and ‘I need to play more and more time to feel satisfied’.
The third criterion most related to IGD was ‘abstinence’ which in this study was asked through the questions ‘I feel annoyed or unhappy when I can not play and ‘I start to feel restless and nervous when I have not played for a while.
As in many other studies, it was found that preoccupation with gambling (thinking about gambling even when not playing) was common among players, but that it is a bad criterion for assessing computer game addiction because it is also met by many who do not have problems with gambling.
Own reflections on the study
What conclusions do we then draw from this large and in my opinion well-conducted study?
As we have mentioned several times before, this study also shows that most young people can handle computer games without negative effects, while for a smaller proportion of people it creates problems in other parts of life.
There is reason to believe that the prevalence of computer game addiction is relatively similar between South Korea and Germany (compared with, for example, South Korea) and that there may be similar figures here. If we assume that one percent of Korean teenagers have such problems with computer gaming that they meet the criteria for Internet Gaming Disorder, it is thousands of young people whose gambling has negative consequences for their health and functioning.
Furthermore, we can state that, as other studies show, the problem is much more widespread among boys than among girls, which is also in good agreement with our experiences in Reconnect. According to the Media Council, it is almost as common among girls to play some form of computer game. Despite this, it is much rarer among girls to play to such an extent that you get into trouble.
As for the criteria proposed for the diagnosis of computer game addiction (IGD), I hope that they are evaluated and improved before the diagnosis of computer game addiction (or what you now choose to call it) may be used here in South Korea.
Several of the criteria, which originate in the diagnosis of substance dependence, with current formulations can not distinguish between healthy computer gaming and gaming problems, which of course means a big problem when it comes to identifying the people who need help.