How much gaming is too much?

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The recent recognition of “gaming disorder” as a new type of mental illness offers new possibilities to study the health and psychosocial effects of sufferers, say researchers

Gaming disorder – associated with extreme cases of uncontrolled behaviour playing computer games – has recently been officially included in the World Health Organization disease catalogue.

Researchers led by Dr Halley Pontes of the University of Tasmania, and Professor Christian Montag of Ulm University in Germany, have now developed the first worldwide first psychological test for gaming disorder and conducted a trial with a random group of over 550 students from Great Britain and China.

At the same time as the pair publish their work in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, the researchers are also making their Gaming Disorder Test available to the public.

The online platform is designed to provide study participants with feedback on their video game behaviour in comparison to the rest of the population, as well as helping support one of the largest studies to date on gaming disorder as defined by the WHO. 

According to the recent WHO definition, gaming disorder could apply to anybody who can no longer control their gaming behaviour, who prioritises computer games over other activities, and does not change this behaviour despite negative consequences.

The behaviour must have been evident for at least 12 months and resulted in significant impairment in family life, education or work performance.

In 2013, the related condition ‘internet gaming disorder’ was included as a ‘condition for further study’ in the appendix of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) of the American Psychiatric Association.

Due to the differences in diagnostic criteria, however, the results of existing psychological tests for internet gaming disorder are only partly transferable to the gaming disorder as defined by the WHO. Researchers from Ulm, Cologne, London, Chinese universities and Australia have thus developed the world’s first psychometric instrument to study and assess gaming disorder on the basis of the WHO criteria. 

The new online questionnaire is based on WHO criteria and records gaming activities of the past 12 months up to the day of the survey on a scale of one to five (with one meaning ‘never’ and five ‘very often’).

The purpose of the psychometric instrument is to research the effects of excessive gaming. Therefore, study participants only receive feedback whether their results show a tendency towards gaming disorder.

The test has already been used on a sample group of more than 550 Chinese and British students.

“Excessive video gaming is already a serious health risk in Asian countries and an emerging problem in Europe. In order to conduct large international studies, we designed the new instrument in a cross-cultural way and tested it in China and Great Britain,” said Prof Montag.

The sample group included 236 young Chinese students from a university in Beijing and 324 British students from Greater London and the East Midlands. The average age was 23 years. Not having played any video games in the last 12 months automatically disqualified from participation in the online survey. 

Upon completion of the survey the researchers used statistical procedures to assess whether the instrument is suited to measure gaming disorder and whether the construct measurements are reliable.

They were also able to draw initial conclusions about the gaming behaviour of the surveyed Chinese and British students.

One such finding was that the prevalence of gaming disorder as per WHO criteria did not differ significantly between the two national groups.

On average, the students stated that they play 12 hours a week. They spend almost half of this time (46%) on weekends alone in front of a computer or other mobile devices.

A total of 36 participants (6.4 %) reported major problems in everyday life due to their gaming behaviour and could therefore fulfil the WHO’s diagnostic criteria.

“The Gaming Disorder Test seems suitable to assess the prevalence and, in combination with other questionnaires, the effects of gaming disorder in large cross-cultural groups based on the proposed WHO criteria,” said Prof Montag.

The researchers plan to test the new questionnaire on patient samples. 

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