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Gaming Addiction

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) reports that “psychiatrists are concerned about the wellbeing of children who spend so much time with video games that they fail to develop friendships, get appropriate outdoor exercise or suffer in their schoolwork.” 1

“‘Internet-use disorder’ is set to be added to the list of mental illnesses in the worldwide psychiatric manual,” reports the Russia Today website. “Kids are identified as being especially at risk.”

The international mental health encyclopedia known as the ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’ (DSM-IV) will include Internet-use disorder as a condition “recommended for further study” in its forthcoming May 2013 edition.… Psychologists are pushing to broaden the diagnoses of Internet-use disorder to include more than just gaming addictions,i which could expand the age group of those affected by the illness.…

“With kids, gaming is an obvious issue. But overall, technology use could be a potential problem,” Director of the Brain and Psychological Sciences Research Centre Mike Kyrios told the Sydney Morning Herald. Australia was one of the first countries to recognize the problem and offer public treatment, and established clinics to treat video game addiction.…

[Although a number of facilities have video game addiction programs in place, not too many parents are actually getting their children that kind of treatment.]

Parents have noted their children becoming angry and violent when their electronic gadgets are taken away from them, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.2

The APA has also reported that “players of violent video games have significantly higher feelings of aggression and differences in brain activity during both cognitive motor activity and resting periods.… Researchers led by Gregor R. Szycik, Ph.D., with Hannover Medical School in Hannover, Germany, investigated intensive use of first-person shooter games on the brain function of young male adults, particularly looking at both the possible impact of such games on morphological and functional structure of the brain and its relation to processing cognitive tasks.” 3

“Baroness Greenfield, the former director of the Royal Institution, said spending too much time staring at computer screens can cause physical changes in the brain that lead to attention and behaviour problems,” reports the Telegraph:

“Screen technologiesii cause high arousal, which in turn activates the brain system’s underlying addiction and reward, resulting in the attraction of yet more screen-based activity, the Baroness said.

The average child will spend almost 2,000 hours in front of a screen between their tenth and eleventh birthdays, she added.

Comparing the dangers to the lack of awareness about the health risks of smoking in the 1950s, she said playing too many computer games could cause a shorter attention span and more reckless behaviour in children.4

“The controversy over whether or not violent video games are potentially harmful to users has raged for many years, making it as far as the Supreme Court in 2010,” writes a Radiological Society of North America Press Release. “But there has been little scientific evidence demonstrating that the games have a prolonged negative neurological effect”:

“For the first time, we have found that a sample of randomly assigned young adults showed less activation in certain frontal brain regions following a week of playing violent video games at home,” said Yang Wang, M.D., assistant research professor in the Department of Radiology and Imaging Sciences at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. “These brain regions are important for controlling emotion and aggressive behavior.”…

“Findings indicate that violent video game play has a long-term effect on brain functioning,” Dr. Wang said.5

“Every computer game is designed around the same central element: the player. While the hardware and software for games may change, the psychology underlying how players learn and react to the game is a constant,” expounds John Hopson in “Behavioral Game Design” for Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Games:

The study of the mind has actually come up with quite a few findings that can inform game design, but most of these have been published in scientific journals and other esoteric formats inaccessible to designers. Ironically, many of these discoveries used simple computer games as tools to explore how people learn and act under different conditions.… Psychology can offer a framework and a vocabulary for understanding what we are already telling our players.

  • Contingencies and Schedules.… A contingency is a rule or set of rules governing when rewards are given out. The anecdote about this discovery (as passed to [Hopson] by one of his students) is that one day B. F. Skinner ran low on the small food pellets he gave the rats in his experiments. Rather than risk running out and having to stop work for the day, he began to provide the pellets every tenth time the rats pressed the lever instead of every time. Experimenting with different regimens of reward, he found that they produced markedly different patterns of response. From this was born a new area of psychology, and one that has some strong implications for game design.
  • Ratios and Intervals.… There are essentially two fundamental sorts of contingencies, ratios and intervals. Ratio schedules provide rewards after a certain number of actions have been completed.… Fixed ratio schedules typically produce a very distinct pattern in the participant. First there is a long pause, then a steady burst of activity as fast as possible until a reward is given.… Once participants decide to go for the reward, they act as fast as they can to bring the reward quickly.…

There are also “variable ratio” schedules, in which a specific number of actions are required, but that number changes every time.… Under variable ratio schedules, participants typically respond with a steady flow of activity at a reasonably high rate. While not quite as high a rate as the burst under a fixed ratio schedule, it is more consistent and lacks the pausing that can cause trouble.… In general, variable ratio schedules produce the highest overall rates of activity of all the schedules.

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On the other side of the coin there are interval schedules. Instead of providing a reward after a certain number of actions, interval schedules provide a reward after a certain amount of time has passed. In a “fixed interval” schedule, the first response after a set period of time produces a reward.… Participants usually respond to fixed interval contingencies by pausing for a while after a reward and then gradually responding faster and faster until another reward is given.… As in the fixed ratio, there is a pause that can cause problems for a game designer. Unlike the fixed ratio, there is no sharp transition to a high rate of activity. Instead, there is gradual increase as the appropriate time approaches. The pause remains, a period where player motivation is low.

There are also “variable interval” schedules, where the period of time involved changes after each reward. A counterpart to the variable ratio schedules, these also produce a steady, continuous level of activity, although at a slower pace. As in the variable ratio schedule, there is always a reason to be active.… The motivation is evenly spread out over time, so there are no low points where the players’ attention might wander. The activity is lower than in a variable ratio schedule because the appearance is not dependent on activity.

Experiments have shown that [game designers] are very good at determining which consequences are the results of [their] own actions and which are not.… Each contingency is an arrangement of time, activity, and reward, and there are an infinite number of ways these elements can be combined to produce the pattern of activity [designers] want from [their] players.6

“Notice [the] article does not contain the words ‘fun’ or ‘enjoyment.’… Instead it’s “the pattern of activity you want,” observes David Wong in “5 Creepy Ways Video Games Are Trying to Get You Addicted” for the website:

His theories are based around the work of BF Skinner, who discovered you could control behavior by training subjects with simple stimulus and reward. He invented the “Skinner Box,” a cage containing a small animal that, for instance, presses a lever to get food pellets.…

It used to be that once they sold us a $50 game, they didn’t particularly care how long we played. The big thing was making sure we liked it enough to buy the next one. But the industry is moving toward subscription-based games like MMO’s that need the subject to keep playing – and paying – until the sun goes supernova.

Now, there’s no way they can create enough exploration or story to keep you playing for thousands of hours, so they had to change the mechanics of the game, so players would instead keep doing the same actions over and over and over, whether they liked it or not. So game developers turned to Skinner’s techniques.…

Most addiction-based game elements are based on this fact:

Your brain treats items and goods in the video game world as if they are real. Because they are.… That’s why the highest court in South Korea ruled that virtual goods are to be legally treated the same as real goods. And virtual goods are now a $5 billion industry worldwide.

There’s nothing crazy about it. After all, people pay thousands of dollars for diamonds, even though diamonds do nothing but look pretty. A video game suit of armor looks pretty and protects you from video game orcs. In both cases you’re paying for an idea.7

While extreme cases of video game addiction make headlines, none seems so egregious as a Korean couple “arrested in 2010 after their infant daughter starved to death while the pair played an online game for hours,” continues Russia Today. “The videogame [sic] the two were playing involved raising a virtual baby.” 8

“While video games provide lots of fun and can even teach cognitive and problem-solving skills, nothing that is done in excess is good for any of us,” points out Traci S. Campbell in her motivational blog.… “The reality is that video game addiction can happen to anyone, at any time, no matter where they live or what they age. Some signs of video game addiction in children include:”

  • Isolation. They don’t want to do anything else other than be in the room and play video games.
  • Distraction. It’s hard for them to eat, study or focus on their homework and other responsibilities.
  • Restlessness. Many children that are addicted to video games will find a way to sneak and play them even if you set clear boundaries. This will include waiting until everyone else is asleep, which, in turn, affects their sleep.
  • Defensiveness. When you confront them about their activities, they find themselves defending it or lying to you about how much they play.
  • Grades drop. It’s easy to say they are doing homework in their room, but if there is access to video games in there and their grades are plummeting, that could be the cause.9


i According to a survey of over 19,000 parents worldwide,…2% of computer game addicts were just 5 years old.
– Byron Acohido, “Kids access porn sites at 6, begin flirting online at 8,” USA Today, 14 May 2013, at (retrieved: 14 May 2013).

ii The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children not spend more than two hours in front of a screen per day.
– Andrew M. Seaman (Reuters), “Addictive gaming more common with autism and ADHD,” NBC News Health, 31 July 2013, at (retrieved: 5 September 2013).


1 News release, “Statement of the American Psychiatric Association on ‘Video Game Addiction’,”, 21 June 2007, at (retrieved: 9 March 2011); See also: “American Psychiatric Association Considers ‘Video Game Addiction’,” Science News, at (retrieved: 9 March 2011).

2 “Digital Age overload: ‘Internet addiction’ to be classified as mental illness,” Russia Today, 1 October 2012, at (retrieved: 1 October 2012).

3 News release, “New Research Poster: Study Examines the Impact of Use of Violent Video Games,”, 24 May 2010, at (retrieved: 9 March 2011).

4 Nick Collins, “Video games ‘can alter children’s brains’,” The Telegraph, 14 October 2011, at (retrieved: 2 June 2015).

5 “Violent Video Games Alter Brain Function in Young Men,” Radiological Society of North America Press Release, 20 November 2011, at (retrieved: 2 June 2015).

6 John Hopson, “Behavioral Game Design,” Gamasutra, at (retrieved: 4 January 2011).

7 David Wong, “5 Creepy Ways Video Games Are Trying to Get You Addicted,” 8 March 2010,, at (retrieved: 9 March 2011).

8 “Digital Age overload,” Russia Today.

9 Traci S. Campbell, “Video Game Addiction Symptoms: Dying for a Digital Thrill,” The Social Advocate Voice, at (retrieved: 18 November 2012).

See also

Kevin Crosby, “Gameplay,” in Tinfoil Hat,, at (retrieved: 13 November 2012).

“Classical and Operant Conditioning for AP Psychology,”, at (retrieved: 6 May 2012).

“S Korea child ‘starves as parents raise virtual baby’,” BBC News, 5 March 2010, at (retrieved: 1 October 2012).

David Edwards, “Angry Florida man breaks baby’s leg after diaper change interrupts Xbox game,” The Raw Story, 23 December 2013, at (retrieved: 23 December 2013).

Hilary Hanson, “Girls Trapped In Filthy Home For 3 Years While Couple Played World Of Warcraft,” The Huffington Post, 8 August 2014, at (retrieved: 9 August 2014).

Owen S. Good, “World of Warcraft player makes the longest, slowest grind to level 90,”, 22 June 2014, at (retrieved: 9 August 2014).

Related videos

“Are Games Racist? | Game/Show | PBS Digital Studios,” PBS Game/Show video at, (retrieved: 8 November 2013). (Show video)

“Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood [Full Film],” futureproducernet video at, (retrieved: 14 January 2012). (Show video)

“Facebook CIA Project: The Onion News Network,” c0pyr1gh7 video at, (retrieved: 5 June 2012). (Show video)

“Greatest freak out ever (ORIGINAL VIDEO),” Greatest freakout ever video at, (retrieved: 17 March 2013). (Show video)

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