It's not uncommon to hear gamers jokingly praise their favorite games as "addictive," but researchers are treating the issue seriously. A new paper from the National Institute on Media and the Family's director of research (who also serves as an assistant professor of psychology at Iowa State University) suggests that as many as 8.5 percent of gamers in the US qualify as addicted.
The paper's author, Dr. Douglas Gentile, commissioned a Harris Poll survey of 1,178 US gamers between the ages of 8 and 18, asking them questions about games modeled after other addiction tests. Gentile asked respondents 11 questions about their gaming habits to see if the hobby disrupted their ability to function in various aspects of life. If a person answered affirmatively to six or more questions, Gentile considered them an addict, or pathological gamer.
One question asked if players sometimes skipped homework to play games. Others asked if they unsuccessfully tried to cut back on gaming time, played games to escape from problems and bad feelings, or ever stole money in order to play. Respondents could answer "yes," "no," or "sometimes." Counting every "sometimes" response as half of a "yes," Gentile found that 8.5 percent of the gamers surveyed had six or more "yes" answers. If "sometimes" was considered the same as "no," that dropped to 7.9 percent.
"Pathological gamers had been playing for more years, played more frequently and for more time, knew more of the video-game rating symbols, received worse grades in school, were more likely to report having trouble paying attention in school, were more than twice as likely to have been diagnosed with an attention-deficit disorder, had more health problems that were likely to have been exacerbated by long hours of playing video games (e.g., hand pain and wrist pain), and were more likely to report having felt 'addicted' to games and having friends they thought were 'addicted' to games," he said. "Pathological gamers were also significantly more likely to have been involved in physical fights in the past year."
Although the abstract for the article doesn't mention it, Gentile's paper stresses that his findings only show a correlation between pathological gaming and those factors, and nothing causal.
"It is certainly possible that pathological gaming causes poor school performance, and so forth, but it is equally likely that children who have trouble at school seek to play games to experience feelings of mastery, or that attention problems cause both poor school performance and an attraction to games."
For more on the issue of gaming addiction, check out GameSpot's recently published feature on the subject.