Video game addiction: An unpublished interview (Part 1)
A few months ago I was interviewed by a video game industry insider. For reasons unbeknown to me, the interview was never published so I thought this might be an opportune moment to publish the unedited transcript over three parts.
Interviewer: The focus of your work is mainly behavioural addiction, could you start by giving a brief overview of what behavoural addiction is?
Mark Griffiths: Behavioural addictions are those addictions that do not involve the ingestion of a psychoactive substance such as alcohol, nicotine or heroin. Some people believe that a person cannot become addicted to something in the absence of a psychoactive agent, but it is my passionate belief that people can (and do) become addicted to non-chemical behaviours. I have written a number of papers over the last 20 years that have tried to show that some behaviours when taken to excess (e.g., gambling, video gaming) are no different from (say) alcoholism or heroin addiction in terms of the core components of addiction (e.g. salience, tolerance, withdrawal, mood modification, conflict, relapse etc.). If it can be shown that a behaviour like pathological gambling can be a bona fide addiction (and I believe that it can), then there is a precedent that any behaviour that provides continuous rewards (in the absence of a psychoactive substance) can be potentially addictive. Such a precedent ‘opens the floodgates’ for other excessive behaviours to be considered theoretically as potential addictions (e.g. exercise, sex, eating, computer games, the internet) which is what I’ve been examining in some of my research.
Interviewer: Whilst most of your work is around gambling addictions, you also do work on videogames and internet addiction. What drew you to this area of research?
Mark Griffiths: I suppose the ‘classic’ behavioural addiction is gambling, and it was this type of behavioural addiction that fuelled my interest in other forms of non-chemical addiction such as videogame addiction. Many people might think it’s obvious why a psychologist would be interested in studying behavioural addictions such as videogame addiction. It’s a ‘sexy’ subject, it’s media-friendly, the general public find it interesting, and almost everybody from all walks of life has some kind of view on it, whether it’s rooted in personal experience or in a finely argued theoretical perspective. However, my own interest came about somewhat accidentally.
Like a lot of people, my main research interests developed over time and were not pre-planned. It was during my PhD (1987-1990) that I began to see excessive slot machine playing as theoretically no different from chemically-based drug addictions. Although I am still very much involved in the psychology of gambling, it is the theoretical basis of my work on gambling addiction that inspired me to take a more thorough look at other excessive behaviours such as internet and videogame playing. To some extent, my research has been a natural progression which has seen me go from fruit machine addiction to arcade video game addiction, and then to technological addictions more specifically (e.g. home computer game addiction, internet addiction, television addiction) and to behavioural addic- tions more generally (e.g. exercise addiction, sex addiction).
Now that I appear to be firmly entrenched in this research area, my motivations for continuing are also diverse. I like the fact that my research may be seen by some psychologists as controversial (for instance, many people reading this may think addictions to the internet or exercise are spurious) because this brings with it the chance to debate widely about the theoretical underpinnings of what it is to be addicted to something. My research also brings psychological issues to a wider audience, because the debates surrounding addiction often take place outside academic circles, whether it be in the pub on a Friday night or on a popular television show. I hope that the kind of research I undertake will continue to stimulate the debate – even if people do not agree with what I have to say.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Psychology Division, Nottingham Trent University, UK.