Video game addiction: An unpublished interview (Part 2)
Interviewer: Could you give a bit more of an overview of what the six core components you mention? Are they all required in order to classify something an addiction?
Mark Griffiths: I operationally define anyone as an addict if they display all my six core components of addiction. As with all operational definitions, there may be a few people who you could class as ‘addicted’ without necessarily having fulfilled all the criteria but if someone fulfilled all six I would be confident that they are genuinely addicted. In relation to videogame addiction, I would expect they following.
* Salience occurs when videogame play becomes the most important activity in the person’s life and dominates their thinking (preoccupations and cognitive distortions), feelings (cravings) and behaviour (deterioration of socialized behaviour). For instance, even if the person is not actually playing on a videogame they will be thinking about the next time that they will be.
* Mood modification refers to the subjective experiences that people report as a consequence of engaging in I videogame play and can be seen as a coping strategy (i.e., they experience an arousing “buzz” or a “high” or paradoxically tranquilizing feel of “escape” or “numbing”).
* Tolerance is the process whereby increasing amounts of videogame play are required to achieve the former mood modifying effects. This basically means that for someone engaged in videogame playing, they gradually build up the amount of the time they spend engaged in the behaviour.
* Withdrawal symptoms are the unpleasant feeling states and/or physical effects that occur when videogame play is discontinued or suddenly reduced (e.g., the shakes, moodiness, irritability).
* Conflict refers to the conflicts between the videogame player and those around them (interpersonal conflict), conflicts with other activities (job, schoolwork, social life, hobbies and interests) or from within the individual themselves (intrapsychic conflict and/or subjective feelings of loss of control) which are concerned with spending too much time engaged in videogame play.
* Relapse is the tendency for repeated reversions to earlier patterns of videogame play to recur and for even the most extreme patterns typical of the height of excessive videogame play to be quickly restored after periods of abstinence or control.
Interviewer: Gambling led you in to your studies on videogame addictions. Do you still find that the two overlap?
Mark Griffiths: There is a huge overlap conceptually and behaviourally between video games and some types of gambling – most notably slot machines. Slot machines and video game machines share a number of structural elements in common. Both feature (a) the requirement of response to stimuli that are predictable and governed by a software loop, (b) the requirement of total concentration and hand-eye coordination, (c) rapid span of play negotiable to some extent by the skill of the player, (d) the provision of aural and visual rewards for a win, (e) the provision of an incremental reward for a winning move, (f) digitally displayed scores of ‘correct’ behaviour, and (g) the opportunity for peer group attention and approval through competition.
Interviewer: You speak about the debates around addiction taking place in public spheres, such as in pubs and in the media, and you yourself have been interviewed about your work in a variety of media. What do you feel the value of bringing work like yours to a wider audience?
Mark Griffiths: To be honest I have always wanted to disseminate my work to the widest audience possible. I really don’t see the point of spending months doing a piece of research only for a few other academics to read about in a scientific journal. That is one of the reasons I do a lot of freelance journalism as a way of disseminating my work and ideas to those who I think should hear about it – whether that’s the general public or policymakers. I am very lucky to have won a number of national awards for communicating science to the general public but they have been a successful by-product of what I love doing. I think it’s important for research to be accountable to the wider public and my dissemination strategies help in getting key messages over.
Interviewer: The controversy point is an interesting one; videogames addiction is a fiercely debated topic, a recent example being the ‘Panorama’ documentary on which you appeared as an expert. The documentary presented videogames addiction as a fairly significant problem, do you agree that it is?
Mark Griffiths: Not at all. If you listen to my soundbites that were aired I just said that there was a small minority of players who appear to be genuinely addicted to online gaming and also explained a few of the psychological processes (such as operant conditioning) that help explain the addiction process. I was interviewed by ‘Panorama’ for well over an hour and they aired less than two minutes of my interview. They chose the bits that best fitted the story they wanted to tell. I stand by the things I said but the soundbites weren’t contextualized. Thankfully, most of the feedback about the things I said were positively viewed by the gaming community.
Interviewer: The documentary drew criticism for its lack of understanding about videogames and their players. Do you feel that there is a gap between what players and non-players (including the media) understand videogames to be?
Mark Griffiths: Absolutely. I find this most apparent in the emails and telephone calls I get from parents who tend to ‘pathologise’ their children’s gaming behaviour because they don’t understand it and don’t play themselves. I’ve written about this ‘technological generation gap’ between players and non-players. However, the media have their own agenda. I have probably written as much about the positives of playing videogames as the negative. However, every time I put out a press release that is a ‘good news’ videogame story, it only gets one-tenth of the publicity in the national or international press compared to what I would call a ‘bad news’ story. I can’t stop this but am very aware of it. That’s one of the reasons I prefer live radio and television interviews to pre-recorded ones as I am in total control of how my comments will be received by the listening or viewing public.
Interviewer: So a person could spend a great deal of times playing games without being an addict? Can these excessive behaviours be a problem even though they’re not linked to addiction?
Mark Griffiths: For some people, definitely. Any behaviour that is done to excess – even if it is not an addiction – can potentially take away time from other important things such as job, relationships, and other hobbies. This will depend on the duties, constraints and context of the person in question. A 21-year old man with no partner, no children and no job may have time to play 8-10 hours a day without any negative detriment on their life. However, a married man with three children and a full-time job would find it very hard to play 8-10 hours a day without it seriously compromising some other aspect of their life.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Psychology Division, Nottingham Trent University, UK.