A new study by an Iowa State University researcher says 8.5 percent of U.S. kids between the ages of 8 and 18 show multiple signs of being "pathological gamers."
Psychologist Douglas Gentile, an assistant professor at Iowa State University who is also the director of research at the National Institute on Media and the Family, based his findings on diagnostic criteria for pathological gambling that he adapted to videogame use. 1178 children and teenagers were sampled in his study, which looked for symptoms including the need to spend more money and time on games to feel the same level of excitement, lying about how much time was spent playing games and stealing games or money to continue feeding the habit.
"I thought this was parental histrionics - that kids are playing a lot and parents don't understand the motivation, so they label it an addiction," Gentile said. "It turns out that I was wrong."
His study found that children who meet the criteria of "pathological gamer" fared poorly in school compared to others, had trouble paying attention in class and reported feelings of "addiction" to games. They were twice as likely to suffer from attention-deficit disorder or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and four times as many boys as girls exhibited symptoms of pathological gaming.
"It's not that the games are bad. It's not that the games are addictive," he said. "It's that some kids use them in a way that is out of balance and harms various other areas of their lives."
But while most people agree that overindulgence can be unhealthy, some experts questioned Gentile's findings. Michael Brody, chairman of the media committee of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, compared gaming to other activities that most people take for granted. "I think kids use this just the way kids watch television, the way kids now use their cellphones," he said. "They do it to relieve their anxiety and depression. It's all a matter of balance."
And Mark Griffiths of the International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University in the U.K. said that while he believes gaming addiction is a real phenomenon, the actual number of addicted gamers is smaller than indicated by the research. There are 45 million children in the U.S. who fit within the age range of the study, meaning almost four million would fall into the category of pathological gamer. "In all honesty, if there really were 8.5 percent of children who were genuinely addicted, there would be treatment clinics all over America," Griffiths said.