Category Archives: Technology
Kindred spirits: A brief look at responsible gambling
Anyone that has read my research on gambling will know that I am committed to player protection, harm-minimization, social responsibility, and responsible gambling. I was recently interviewed by Kindred Gaming for an article on their website. This blog contains the full unedited transcript of that interview.
Kindred: You have worked in the field for several years now, what are the biggest changes you have seen to the industry when it comes to responsible gambling and player protection?
MG: I’ve been working in the gambling studies field for 33 years and it was around 1996 that I first began to think about my research in terms of social responsibility issues. It was in the early 2000s that some of the more forward thinking gaming operators started to bring in socially responsible gambling features (particularly in countries such as Sweden, Norway, Canada and Australia although that might be more reflective of the clients who I had consultancy with at the time). It is over the past decade that responsible gambling has really come to the fore, and many gambling regulators around the world will not grant operating licences unless the gaming operators can demonstrate what they are doing in terms of player protection and harm-minimization. The biggest changes are arguably in the online medium because there are so many protective measures that can be initiated online such as various limit-setting features, temporary self-exclusions and cool-off periods, pop-up messaging, bespoke personalized feedback, mandatory play breaks, and the use of behavioural tracking tools.
Kindred: Focusing on your study “An Empirical Study of the Effect of Voluntary Limit-Setting on Gamblers’ Loyalty Using Behavioural Tracking Data” can you tell us a bit about the key findings, and how you view voluntary vs mandatory limits and other control tools?
MG: Kindred kindly gave us access to a dataset of 175,818 players who had placed at least one bet or gambled at least once during January 2016 to May 2017. In a nutshell we looked at active players over a one-year period and found that the percentage of active players in the first quarter of 2017 was significantly higher in the group of players who had set voluntary money limits in the first quarter of 2016 compared to players that did not. This suggests that players who set voluntary spending limits were more loyal to Kindred compared to those who do not. On the assumption that voluntary limit-setting should be part of a gaming operator’s corporate social responsibility strategy, our findings appear to underline the fact that CSR has a positive effect on business outcomes. With regards to the issue of voluntary vs. mandatory limit-setting, I’m personally in favour of it being mandatory for players to set their own time and money limits if they want to gamble. Many players don’t set their own limits but I think making it mandatory would help players in terms of managing their budgets. Some companies have default global monthly limits on how much money players can lose but that can become restrictive for those who can afford to gamble with larger amounts of money and can also be restrictive for some kinds of gambling (sports betting being the type of gambling most affected).
Kindred: How do you think operators and the academic world can work together for a safer and more sustainable gambling industry in the coming years?
MG: If both academics and the gambling industry have a shared goal of preventing and reducing problem gambling, I think there are good pragmatic reasons to work collaboratively. Personally, I think some of the best gambling research that I have done is working with gambling companies (and I would stress that I am working with gambling companies and not for them) simply because of the high quality data that gambling operators have. Obviously there are many academics who have criticized myself (and my colleagues) for such collaborations but I think the positives of working together outweighs the negatives. As long as we have complete independence to publish the results of what we find without interference from the operators, I do not have a problem in working together. My main area in this field is the evaluation of responsible gambling tools and whether the measures introduced by operators to help their players gamble more responsibly and/or can help prevent/reduce problem gambling. Over the past eight years, Dr. Michael Auer and myself have evaluated the efficacy of limit-setting, mandatory play breaks, pop-up messaging, personalized feedback, loss-limit reminders, and other gambling operator initiatives. Some of these appear to work and others less so. To move the field forward and to help maintain safe and sustainable gambling, collaborative research needs to continue. I have worked with and carried out consultancy with over 30 gambling companies around the world and am very proud of companies changing their practices and policies in relation to the findings of our research. If research findings cannot be applied to help the greater good, then what is the point of doing research if it has little practical benefit? For me, it’s a ‘win-win’ situation.
Kindred: Kindred has set an ambition to reach zero percent revenue from harmful gambling, what do you see as the key steps towards 100% enjoyable gambling?
MG: The aim is laudable but going to be difficult to achieve because harmful gambling (including problem gambling) can never be totally eliminated – although I do believe it can be kept to a minimum. I’ve always argued that problem gamblers have a relatively short customer life for gambling companies and that what sustainable companies need is long-term customer retention. Problem gamblers cannot give companies that and gambling operators need to think about lifetime customer value with decades of repeat business from those who gamble within their limits over a long period of time rather than relatively high spending from a minority of customers who may only gamble with the company for a few years. Customers will keep coming back to gambling operators if they have a product or products that customers feel is value for money and provides enjoyment – even if they lose money. There are a number of key steps that all gambling companies should take if they want sustainable and safe gambling including informed choice. These include (but are not limited to) (i) providing customers with all the information they need so that they can make an informed choice about whether they want to gamble, (ii) responsible marketing and advertising, (iii) robust age verification checks of customers, (iv) robust financial checks of customers, (v) mandatory limit-setting for customers, (v) using customer data to intervene and help high-risk gamblers via bespoke pop-up messaging and personalized messaging, (vi) partnering with gambling prevention and treatment agencies, and (vii) robust voluntary self-exclusion schemes.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Voluntary limit setting and player choice in most intense online gamblers: An empirical study of gambling behaviour. Journal of Gambling Studies, 29, 647-660.
Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). An empirical investigation of theoretical loss and gambling intensity. Journal of Gambling Studies, 30, 879-887.
Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Testing normative and self-appraisal feedback in an online slot-machine pop-up message in a real-world setting. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 339.
Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The use of personalized behavioral feedback for problematic online gamblers: An empirical study. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1406.
Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Personalized behavioral feedback for online gamblers: A real world empirical study. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1875.
Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2020). The use of personalized messages on wagering behavior of Swedish online gamblers: An empirical study. Computers in Human Behavior, 110, 106402.
Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2020). Predicting limit-setting behavior of gamblers using machine learning algorithms: A real world study of Norwegian gamblers using account data. International Journal of Mental Health and Addictions. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11469-019-00166-2
Auer, M., Hopfgartner, N. & Griffiths, M.D. (2018). The effect of loss-limit reminders on gambling behavior: A real world study of Norwegian gamblers. Journal of Behavioral Addictions,7(4), 1056-1067.
Auer, M., Hopfgartner, N. & Griffiths, M.D. (2018). The effect of loss-limit reminders on gambling behavior: A real world study of Norwegian gamblers. Journal of Behavioral Addictions,7(4), 1056-1067.
Auer, M., Hopfgartner, N. & Griffiths, M.D. (2020). The effects of voluntary deposit limit-setting on long-term online gambling behavior. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 23, 113-118.
Auer, M., Hopfgartner, N. & Griffiths, M.D. (2020). An empirical study of the effect of voluntary limit setting on gamblers’ loyalty using behavioral tracking data. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11469-019-00084-3.
Auer, M., Malischnig, D. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Is ‘pop-up’ messaging in online slot machine gambling effective? An empirical research note. Journal of Gambling Issues, 29, 1-10.
Ukhov, I., Bjurgert, J., Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2020). Online problem gambling: A comparison of casino players and sports bettors via predictive modeling using behavioral tracking data. Journal of Gambling Studies. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10899-020-09964-z
To infinity (and beyond): The benefits of endless running videogames
Last week I was contacted by a journalist at the Red Bulletin Magazine who was “looking for an expert in gaming psychology to talk to for a piece on the mental benefits of endless running games, i.e. ‘the gameplay building strong reward learning in players’. It should be a fun and practical guide…Just let me know if you’d be interested.” I was interested. I had been teaching in the morning so I didn’t get the email until a couple of hours after it had been sent. I scribbled down a few notes, got back in touch, but by the time I did, the journalist had already interviewed someone else for the feature. Since I’d already made a few bullet points, I thought I would use them for the basis of a blog. (I really don’t like things going to waste).
Although much of my research examines problematic gaming, I am not anti-gaming (and never have been), and I have published many papers on the benefits of gaming including therapeutic benefits, educational benefits, and psychological (cognitive) benefits (see ‘Further reading’ below). Some of you reading this may not know what endless running games are, so here is the Wikipedia definition from its entry on platform games:
“‘Endless running’ or ‘infinite running’ games are platform games in which the player character is continuously moving forward through a usually procedurally generated, theoretically endless game world. Game controls are limited to making the character jump, attack, or perform special actions. The object of these games is to get as far as possible before the character dies. Endless running games have found particular success on mobile platforms. They are well-suited to the small set of controls these games require, often limited to a single screen tap for jumping. Games with similar mechanics with automatic forward movement, but where levels have been pre-designed, or procedurally generated to have a set finish line, are often called “auto-runners” to distinguish them from endless runners”.
Endless running games are incredibly popular and played by millions of individuals around the world (including myself on occasions). One of the best things about endless running games is that because they can be played on smartphones and other small hand-held devices they can be played anywhere at any time. Like any good game, the rules are easy to understand, the gameplay is deceptively simple, but in the end, it takes skill to succeed. The simplicity of endless running games is one of the key reasons for their global success in terms player numbers. For successful games, the mechanics should be challenging but not impossible. Such games can lead to what has been described as a state of ‘flow’ (coined by Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi in his seminal books Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience  and Flow: The Psychology of Happiness ).
With the flow experience, a game player derives intense enjoyment by being immersed in the gaming experience, the challenges of the game are matched by the player’s skills, and the player’s sense of time is distorted so that time passes without it being noticed. For some video game players, this may then mean repeatedly seeking out similar experiences on a regular basis to the extent that they can escape from their concerns in the ‘real world’ by being continually engrossed in a flow-inducing world. However, something like flow – viewed largely as a positive psychological phenomenon – may be less positive in the long-term for some video game players if they are craving the same kind of emotional ‘high’ that they obtained the last time that they experienced flow when playing a video game.
Flow has been proposed (by Jackson and Eklund, 2006) as comprising nine elements that include: (i) striking a balance between the challenges of an activity and one’s abilities; (ii) a merging of performance of actions with one’s self-awareness; (iii) possessing clear goals; (iv) gaining unambiguous feedback on performance; (v) having full concentration on the task in hand; (vi) experiencing a sense of being in control; (vii) losing any form of self-consciousness; (viii) having a sense of time distorted so that time seems to speed up or slow down; and (ix) the undergoing of an auto-telic experience (e.g., the goals are generated by the person and not for some anticipated future benefit). Endless running games are one of many types of videogame that can result in ‘flow’ experiences (which for the vast majority of gamers is going to result in something more positive (psychologically) than negative.
There are many studies showing that playing video games can improve reaction times and hand-eye co-ordination. For example, research has shown that spatial visualisation ability, such as mentally rotating and manipulating two- and three-dimensional objects, improves with videogame playing. Again, endless running videogames rely very heavily on hand-eye co-ordination and fast reaction to on-screen events. In this specific area, I see endless running games as having nothing but positive benefits in terms of improving hand-eye co-ordination skills, reflexes, and attention spans.
Although I’m not a neuroscientist or a neuropsychologist, I know that on a neurobiological level, when we engage in pleasurable activity, our bodies produce its own opiate-like neurochemicals in the form of endorphins and dopamine. The novelty aspects of endless running games will for many players result in the production of neurochemical pleasure which is rewarding and reinforcing for the gamer.
I also believe that endless running games have an appeal that crosses many demographic boundaries, such as age, gender, ethnicity, or educational attainment. They can be used to help set goals and rehearse working towards them, provide feedback, reinforcement, self-esteem, and maintain a record of behavioural change in the form of personal scores. Beating one’s own personal high scores or having higher scores than our friends and fellow gamers can also be psychologically rewarding.
Because video games can be so engaging, they can also be used therapeutically. For instance, research has consistently shown that videogames are excellent cognitive distractors and can help reduce pain. Because I have a number of chronic and degenerative health conditions, I play a number of cognitively-engrossing casual games because when my mind is 100% engaged in an activity I don’t feel any pain whatsoever. Again, endless running games tick this particular box for me (and others). Also, on a personal level, I am time-poor because I work so hard in my job. Endless running games are ideal for individuals like myself who simply don’t have the time to engage in playing massively multiplayer online games that can take up hours every day but will quite happily keep myself amused and pain-free on my commute into work on the bus.
As I have pointed out in so many of my research papers and populist writings over the years, is that the negative consequences of playing almost always involve a minority of individuals that are excessive video game players. There is little evidence of serious acute adverse effects on health from moderate play, endless running games included.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Csíkszentmihályi, M. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper and Row
Csíkszentmihályi, M. (1992). Flow: The psychology of happiness. London: Random House.
Griffiths, M.D. (2002). The educational benefits of videogames Education and Health, 20, 47-51.
Griffiths, M.D. (2003). The therapeutic use of videogames in childhood and adolescence. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 8, 547-554.
Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Can videogames be good for your health? Journal of Health Psychology, 9, 339-344.
Griffiths, M.D. (2005). Video games and health. British Medical Journal, 331, 122-123.
Griffiths, M.D. (2005). The therapeutic value of videogames. In J. Goldstein & J. Raessens (Eds.), Handbook of Computer Game Studies (pp. 161-171). Boston: MIT Press.
Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Adolescent video game playing: Issues for the classroom. Education Today: Quarterly Journal of the College of Teachers, 60(4), 31-34.
Griffiths, M.D. (2019). The therapeutic and health benefits of playing videogames. In: Attrill-Smith, A., Fullwood, C. Keep, M. & Kuss, D.J. (Eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Cyberpsychology. (pp. 485-505). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J., & Ortiz de Gortari, A. (2017). Videogames as therapy: An updated selective review of the medical and psychological literature. International Journal of Privacy and Health Information Management, 5(2), 71-96.
Jackson, S.A. & Eklund, R.C. (2006). The flow scale manual. Morgan Town, WV: Fitness Information Technology.
Nuyens, F., Kuss, D.J., Lopez-Fernandez, O., & Griffiths, M.D. (2019). The experimental analysis of non-problematic video gaming and cognitive skills: A systematic review. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 17, 389-414.
Risky business: Organisations should have a ‘gambling at work’ policy
Earlier this week, I was interviewed by the BBC about whether organisations should help individuals who have gambling problems and whether they should have a ‘gambling at work’ policy. Most of us work in organisations that have policies on behaviours such as drinking alcohol and cigarette smoking. However, very few companies have a ‘gambling at work’ policy. One problem gambler in a position of financial trust can bring down a whole organisation – Nick Leeson being a case in point when he single-handedly brought down Barings Bank). Leeson’s (albeit somewhat extreme) antics demonstrate that organisations need to acknowledge that gambling with company money can be disastrous for the company if things go horribly wrong. While no company expects an employee gambling to bring about their collapse, Leeson’s case does at least highlight gambling as an issue that companies ought to think about in terms of risk assessment.
Gambling is a popular leisure activity and national UK surveys into gambling participation show that around two-thirds of adults’ gamble annually and that problem gambling affects approximately 0.5% of the British population (although the prevalence rates for adolescents can be three to four rimes higher). There are a number of socio-demographic factors associated with problem gambling. These included being male, having a parent who was or who has been a problem gambler, being single, and having a low income. Other research shows that those who experience unemployment, poor health, housing, and low educational qualifications have significantly higher rates of problem gambling than the general population.
It is clear that the social and health costs of problem gambling can be large on both an individual and societal level. Personal costs can include irritability, extreme moodiness, problems with personal relationships (including divorce), absenteeism from work, family neglect, and bankruptcy. There can also be adverse health consequences for both the problem gambler and their partner including depression, insomnia, intestinal disorders, migraines, and other stress-related disorders.
For most people, gambling is not a serious problem and in some cases may even be of benefit in team building and/or creating a collegiate atmosphere in the workplace (e.g., National Lottery syndicates, office sweepstakes). However, for those whose gambling starts to become more of a problem, it can affect both the organisation and other work colleagues. Typically problem gambling at work can lead to many negative “warning signs” such as misuse of time, mysterious disappearances, long lunches, late to work, leaving early from work, unusual vacation patterns, unexplained sick leave, internet and telephone misuse, etc. However, new forms of gambling, such as gambling via the internet or smartphones at work, means that many of these warning signs are unlikely to be picked up. However, just because problem gambling is difficult to spot does not mean that managers should not include it in risk assessments and/or planning procedures. Listed below are some practical steps that can be taken to help minimise the potential problem.
- Take the issue of gambling seriously. Gambling (in all its many forms) has not been viewed as an occupational issue at any serious level. Managers, in conjunction with Human Resources Departments need to ensure they are aware of the issue and the potential risks it can bring to both their employees and the whole organisation. They also need to be aware that for employees who deal with finances, the consequences for the company should that person be a problem gambler can be very great.
- Raise awareness of gambling issues at work. This can be done through e-mail circulation, leaflets, and posters on general notice boards. Most countries (including the UK) have national and /or local gambling agencies that can supply useful educational literature (including posters). Telephone numbers for these organisations can usually be found in most telephone directories.
- Ask employees to be vigilant. Problem gambling at work can have serious repercussions not only for the individual but also for those employees who befriend a problem gambler, and the organisation itself. Fellow staff members need to know the signs and symptoms of problem gambling. Employee behaviours such as asking to borrow money all the time might be indicative of a gambling problem.
- Give employees access to diagnostic gambling checklists. Make sure that any literature or poster within the workplace includes a self-diagnostic checklist so that employees can check themselves to see if they might have (or be developing) a gambling problem.
- Check internet “bookmarks” of staff. In some jurisdictions across the world, employers can legally access the e-mails and internet content of their employees. One of the easiest checks is to simply look at an employee’s list of “bookmarked” websites. If they are gambling on the internet regularly, internet gambling sites are almost certainly likely to be bookmarked.
- Develop a “Gambling at Work” policy. As mentioned at the start of this blog, many organisations have policies for behaviours such as smoking or drinking alcohol in the workplace. Employers should develop their own gambling policies by liaison between Human Resource Services and local gambling agencies. A risk assessment policy in relation to gambling would also be helpful.
- Give support to identified problem gamblers. Most large organisations have counselling services and other forms of support for employees who find themselves in difficulties. Problem gambling needs to be treated sympathetically (like other more bona fide addictions such as alcoholism). Employee support services must also be educated about the potential problems of workplace gambling.
Problem gambling can clearly be a hidden activity and the growing availability of internet gambling and gambling via smartphone or tablets is making it easier to gamble from the workplace. Thankfully, it would appear that for most people, gambling is not a serious problem. For those whose gambling starts to become more of a problem, it can affect both the organisation and other work colleagues (and in extreme cases cause major problems for the company as a whole). Managers clearly need to have their awareness of this issue raised, and once this has happened, they need to raise awareness of the issue among the work force. Gambling is a social issue, a health issue and an occupational issue. Although not high on the list for most employers, the issues highlighted here suggest that it should at least be on the list somewhere.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Calado, F., Alexandre, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Prevalence of adolescent problem gambling: A systematic review of recent research. Journal of Gambling Studies, 33, 397-424.
Calado, F. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Problem gambling worldwide: An update of empirical research (2000-2015). Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5, 592–613.
Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Internet gambling in the workplace. In M. Anandarajan & C. Simmers (Eds.). Managing Web Usage in the Workplace: A Social, Ethical and Legal Perspective. pp. 148-167. Hershey, Pennsylvania: Idea Publishing.
Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Occupational health issues concerning Internet use in the workplace. Work and Stress, 16, 283-287.
Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Betting your life on it: Problem gambling has clear health related consequences. British Medical Journal, 329, 1055-1056.
Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Internet gambling in the workplace. Journal of Workplace Learning, 21, 658-670.
Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Internet abuse and internet addiction in the workplace. Journal of Worplace Learning, 7, 463-472.
Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The hidden addiction: Gambling in the workplace. Counselling at Work, 70, 20-23.
Needers of the pack: A brief look at addiction to Solitaire
A few days ago I was interviewed by Business Insider about the addictiveness of the card game Solitaire (also known as Klondike and Patience). The ‘hook’ for the Business Insider article (no pun intended) was that May 22 is National Solitaire Day (NSD). A quick look on the online National Day Calendar confirmed that NSD does indeed exist (a celebration day that only began for the first time last year) and the website also pointed out that the game is over 200 years’ old and that Solitaire “truly went viral” in 1990 when Microsoft included the Microsoft Solitaire game in Windows 3.0 (as a way to teach people how to use the mouse on their computers). The NSD webpage notes that:
“Over the past 28 years, Microsoft Solitaire has been providing great entertainment to hundreds of millions of players in every corner of the world…In 2012, Microsoft evolved Solitaire into the Microsoft Solitaire Collection, which features five of the top Solitaire games in one app. Since then, the game has been played by over 242 million people and has become so popular that each year 33 billion games are played with over 3.2 trillion cards dealt!”
Back in 2000, a short article on internet addiction in The Lancet by Peter Mitchell noted that one of the pioneers in internet addiction research, the clinical psychologist Maressa Hecht Orzack claimed to have a problem (a “near addiction”) playing Solitaire. Orzack was quoted in Mitchell’s article as saying: “So now I don’t have a computer at work. [My playing Solitaire] was getting that serious”. Orzack was also quoted in the Business Insider article. Her Solitaire playing was a “growing obsession” and she neglected her work and lost sleep because of her Solitaire playing. She said: “I kept playing solitaire more and more – my late husband would find me asleep at the computer. I was missing deadlines. I knew something had to be done”.
As far as I am aware, there is no empirical research about addiction to Solitaire, and I’ve never come across a published case study. However, I have mentioned Solitaire in a number of my papers over the years but all of them were in my critique of Dr. Kimberley Young’s taxonomy of the different types of internet addiction. Young claimed there were five different types of internet addiction (‘cyber-sexual addiction’, cyber-relationship addiction, ‘net compulsions’, ‘information overload’ and ‘computer addiction’). In a number of my publications in journals such as the Student British Medical Journal (1999), Addiction Research (2000), and the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction (2006), I argued that the typology was flawed and that most of the examples Young provided were addictions on the internet, not addictions to the internet (and echoing my assertion that individuals are no more addicted to the internet than alcoholics are addicted to bottles).
The reference to Solitaire was in relation to Young’s final type of internet addiction – ‘computer addiction’. One of her examples of ‘computer addiction’ as the playing of Solitaire on computers. (I found this strange particularly because the example didn’t even rely on being on the internet – it was merely about individuals being addicted to playing Solitaire on computers and laptops). Young never provided any empirical evidence that she had ever met or treated anyone with an addiction to Solitaire, just that being addicted to Solitaire would be classed as a ‘computer addiction’ in her typology.
Young is not the only social scientist to use Solitaire as an example in an addiction typology. In a 2008 paper published in the Journal of Applied Social Science, Jawad Fatayer outlined what he believes are the four types of addiction – alpha addictions (addictions that impact the body and physical health such as nicotine addiction and food addiction), beta addictions (addictions that impact the mind and the body such as alcohol and other drug addictions), gamma addictions (all behavioural addictions), and delta addictions (two or more addictions experiences simultaneously). Addiction to Solitaire was listed as a gamma addiction (but again, there was no empirical evidence to support the claim that Solitaire addiction actually exists).
Business Insider spoke to two other psychologists in addition to myself. Dr. Chris Ferguson (with whom I have co-authored a few papers) said:
“It’s important to recognize the difference between really liking something and having a clinical addiction. People (say) ‘I’m addicted to cupcakes’, ‘I’m addicted to chocolate’ meaning ‘This is a really fun thing that I like to do a lot’. There’s a huge debate that goes on in the field right now about whether video games can be compared to things like substance abuse, or if video games are more similar to hobby-like activities that many people enjoy — and some people might overdo…a fixation with Solitaire is more of a behavioral addiction – an obsessive behavioral pattern that can be a sign of underlying mental distress or illness. People who have mental health issues, or are simply under stress, tend to be drawn to things that are fun and distracting. And that’s mostly good, actually. It’s just that sometimes, for some individuals, they may begin to really overdo those activities as a form of escapism…It’s not about technology. It’s about mental health”.
A clinical psychologist, Anthony Bean said:
“There are some clear signs that Solitaire might be playing too big a role in your life. (If you’re) noticing you’re putting more time than other areas into the game and, let’s say, not paying attention to your family, not paying attention to work, not paying attention to school”.
My contribution to the Business Insider was taken from an email I sent the journalist. Very little of what I sent was used. I was asked two specific questions: (i) what characteristics of the game Solitaire might make it addicting? and (ii) what should people be aware of as signs of a disruptive addiction to Solitaire (or gaming in general)?
In answer to the first question, I wrote that addictions rely on constant rewards (what psychologists refer to as reinforcement) and each game of Solitaire can be played quickly and individuals can be quickly rewarded if they win (positive reinforcement) but when they lose, the feeling of disappointment or cognitive regret can be eliminated by playing again straight away (negative reinforcement – playing as way to relive a dysphoric mood state). I also stated that addictions typically result as a coping mechanism to other things in a person’s life. They use such behaviours as a way of escape and the repetitive playing of games can help in such circumstances. For the overwhelming majority of people, such playing behaviour will be an adaptive coping mechanism but if the game takes over all other aspects of the person’s life and compromises their relationships and their education/occupation (depending upon their age), this becomes a poor coping strategy because the short-term benefits are heavily outweighed by the long-term costs.
In relation to the second question, I outlined what I believe to be the six core criteria of addictive behaviour and outlined them with what I believed a genuine Solitaire addiction would constitute. My response was purely hypothetical because I have never met or even heard of anyone being genuinely addicted to Solitaire. So, hypothetically, Solitaire addiction would comprise anyone that fulfilled all of the following six criteria:
- Salience –This occurs when Solitaire becomes the single most important activity in the person’s life and dominates their thinking (preoccupations and cognitive distortions), feelings (cravings) and behaviour (deterioration of socialised behaviour). For instance, even if the person is not actually playing Solitaire they will be constantly thinking about the next time that they will be (i.e., a total preoccupation with Solitaire).
- Mood modification –This refers to the subjective experiences that people report as a consequence of playing Solitaire and can be seen as a coping strategy (i.e., they experience an arousing ‘buzz’ or a ‘high’ or paradoxically a tranquilizing feel of ‘escape’ or ‘numbing’).
- Tolerance –This is the process whereby increasing amounts of time spent playing Solitaire are required to achieve the former mood modifying effects. This basically means that for someone engaged in Solitaire, they gradually build up the amount of the time they spend playing Solitaire every day.
- Withdrawal symptoms– These are the unpleasant feeling states and/or physical effects (e.g., the shakes, moodiness, irritability, etc.), that occur when the person is unable to play Solitaire because they are ill, have no computer connection, etc.
- Conflict – This refers to the conflicts between the person and those around them (interpersonal conflict), conflicts with other activities (social life, hobbies and interests) or from within the individual themselves (intra-psychic conflict and/or subjective feelings of loss of control) that are concerned with spending too much time playing Solitaire
- Relapse– This is the tendency for repeated reversions to earlier patterns of excessive Solitaire playing to recur and for even the most extreme patterns typical at the height of excessive Solitaire playing to be quickly restored after periods of control.
Finally, I just want to reiterate that I know of no evidence to support the contention that there are individuals genuinely addicted to Solitaire. However, I do think it’s theoretically possible even though I’ve yet to meet or hear about such individuals.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Fatayer, J. (2008). Addiction types: A clinical sociology perspective. Journal of Applied Social Science, 2(1), 88-93.
Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Behavioural addictions: An issue for everybody? Journal of Workplace Learning, 8(3), 19-25.
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