Video game addiction: An unpublished interview (Part 3)
Interviewer: Do you feel that online gaming poses more of an issue than offline?
Mark Griffiths: Yes, but in most cases only to those that have a vulnerability or susceptibility in the first place. The key difference is that in offline gaming a player can typically pause and/or save the game and come back to it a point of their choosing. Online games continue even when the player has logged off and that can lead to some people playing excessively because they ‘don’t want to miss anything’ in a 24/7 playing environment. I’ve argued in a lot of my work that the internet can enhance and/or facilitate the acquisition, development and maintenance of online addictions – but the crucial factor is that somebody would have to have some kind of addiction predisposition in the first place.
Interviewer: Do you feel that ratings systems such as the PEGI system are useful tools to help parents understand the games their children are playing?
Mark Griffiths: Given I was very vocal in the early 1990s for such ratings to be on all games, I am very pleased to see the evolution of ratings over the last two decades. Overall, I am very happy with the PEGI rating system as it is simple and straightforward, and parents can instantly assess whether a game they are buying for their children includes violence, sex, swearing, racism, etc. However, ratings systems can sometimes be a double-edged sword in the sense that putting an age rating on a game makes it more attractive to children who are too young to play it.
Interviewer: Do you feel that the ‘technological generation gap’ can be narrowed and how?
Mark Griffiths: Given that the vast majority of children nowadays play some kind of video game, the ‘technological generation gap’ will naturally disappear over time as the child gamers of today will become the adults of tomorrow. One of the reasons I am pro-gaming with my own kids is that I remember how much fun I had playing Donkey Kong on my Commodore 64 back in the mid-1980s. To eliminate the gap in the short-term, parents need to be educated about the positives of gaming and what it can bring to family life. I’m sure that playing the Wii has brought families together and changed parental attitudes towards gaming in an instant!
Interviewer: Are there any potential problems, in your field or otherwise, that could arise from the rapidly expanding user base of video games?
Mark Griffiths: Obviously this depends on the types of game played and their content. As I said earlier, any activity that has the potential to enhance or facilitate excessive play can lead to potential problems. Depending on the types of game played, this could be in the form of medical effects (repetitive strain injuries, headaches, eye-strains, etc.), chronic health conditions (e.g., obesity), psychobiological effects (e.g., addiction), or alleged behavioural effects (e.g., increased aggression). The good news is that most of these potential effects occur in a very small minority of players and that reducing the time spent playing will almost always alleviate or eliminate such problems.
Interviewer: One of the primary areas you consult on is ‘social responsibility’, what does this involve?
Mark Griffiths: Social responsibility is primarily about gaming companies providing players with as much information as possible so that they can make an informed choice about whether they want to play a particular game in the first place. It is also about designing and non-exploitative way. This has happened in the gambling industry and I think the video gaming industry will follow the same path over the next decade. Video gaming is a consumptive activity that in extreme cases can cause medical, health, psychological and behavioural effects. The video game industry needs to promote responsible playing in the same ways as the gambling industry and alcohol industry. Drinking alcohol and playing on a slot machine are socially acceptable activities. However, most people would freely admit that a minority of people can become addicted to alcohol or gambling. This does not mean that the activities are bad – only that people should be aware that in extreme cases, excessive consumption can occur that may in some cases lead to addiction.
Interviewer: You’ve mainly consulted with the gambling industry, what do you feel your consultancy has achieved?
Mark Griffiths: Things have come a long way since I first started my gaming research in 1987. I was probably perceived by many sectors of the gaming industry as ‘Public Enemy No.1’ because my main research area was gambling addiction. I also think that the industry saw me as ‘anti-gambling’ because my research focus was on problematic players. However, I am pro-responsible gaming and have never been anti-gambling in my life. The thing that interests me is how and why people can become addicted to certain behaviors such as gambling and video gaming. My colleagues who research into alcoholism are never accused of being ‘anti-drinking’! My consultancy has grown exponentially over the last few years and is related to the fact that governments and gaming regulators won’t provide gaming licenses to operators unless all the social responsibility infrastructures, policies and procedures are in place. This means that gaming companies from all around the world now beat a path to my door asking for help and advice into player protection, harm minimization, and social responsibility best practice. This has led to the development of various social responsibility tools that I have co-developed (such as GAM-GaRD – a tool that is now used by many gaming companies all over the world to help them design safer games). I’m incredibly proud of the work that I have done that changes how gaming companies go about their day-to-day working practices, and am so pleased that my research is put into applied practice.
Interviewer: What benefits do you feel that your consultancy can bring to the video games industry?
Mark Griffiths: Obviously I now have a long history of successful consultancy with gaming companies from all over the world. Some of the issues that have been faced by the gambling industry are similar to those experienced by the video game industry – particularly in relation to problematic play by a small minority of players. At the moment, my perception is that the video game industry does not believe ‘gaming addiction’ is an issue and that, even if it exists, the industry feels that the problem lies within the individual and not in the games themselves. This was the position taken by the gambling industry until relatively recently. Although I am the first to admit that individual addiction predispositions exist, the gaming industry still has a responsibility to make sure that vulnerable and susceptible players are not deliberately exploited in terms of how the games are designed or how they are marketed. I am ideally placed to help the video game industry take forward the social responsibility agenda. If they don’t start being pro-active on this issue, my guess is that they will be forced to do it in the not too distant future.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Psychology Division, Nottingham Trent University, UK.