Study Finds 8.5% of U.S. Youth Addicted to Games

An Iowa State University and National Institute on Media and the Family (NIMF) study has concluded that 8.5% of its 1,178 U.S. participants, aged 8 to 18, met the American Psychiatric Association (APA) criteria for gambling addiction, once again bringing the oft-debated topic of video game addiction into the national spotlight.

Participants were asked eleven questions regarding their gaming habits, including "Do you sometimes skip household chores in order to spend more time playing video games" and "Have you ever lied to family or friend about how much you play."

Per APA standards, exhibiting six or more symptoms constituted addiction. Furthermore, the study found that "pathological status significantly predicted poorer school performance even after controlling for sex, age, and weekly amount of video-game play," with "pathological gamers" twice as likely to have a diagnosed attention problem.

The study claims that the results are "nationally representative within 3%." However, study author and Iowa State researcher Douglas Gentile was quick to point out that the study does not confirm video games lead to "poor school performance," or vice versa.

Gentile, also the research director at NIMF, further noted that the study was "limited" because it was conducted online and required computer access.

"Although this group as a whole may be more likely than others to play video games (because they have computer access), comparisons were made only among game players," he wrote.

While NIMF labels the study "a wake-up call for families," others aren't so sure.

Entertainment Software Association communications VP Rich Taylor told Joystiq:

This is a report more in search of media headlines than scientific truth and facts. In an interview, though not in the report itself, Dr. Gentile said, "It's not that games are bad. It's not that games are addictive." Medical experts, including the American Medical Association, have already rejected the fallacy of video game "addiction," and we completely agree.

Like all forms of entertainment, computer and video games should be a part of a well-rounded lifestyle that includes healthy eating and exercise. It is up to parents to determine when and how often their children should play any game. For our part, the industry already provides a wide range of tools and information, including timers and parental controls, to help caregivers ensure that entertainment software is used appropriately.

Grand Theft Childhood co-author Cheryl Olson also questioned the results in a statement to GamePolitics, asking if children "as young as 8 can accurately fill out a self-administered online questionnaire...that uses questions designed for adults."

Olson added:

The concern here is labeling normal childhood behaviors as "pathological" and "addicted." The author is repurposing questions used to assess problem gambling in adults; however, lying to your spouse about blowing the rent money on gambling is a very different matter from fibbing to your mom about whether you played video games instead of starting your homework.

But perhaps the sharpest observation came from International Gaming Research Unit director Mark Griffiths, who noted a belief that game addiction exists but isn't that prevalent. "If there really were 8.5 percent of children who were genuinely addicted, there would be treatment clinics all over America," he told The Washington Post.