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Screen play ideas: A speculative look at trends in video game addiction

Gaming addiction has become a topic of increasing research interest. Over the last decade there has been a significant increase in the number of scientific studies examining various aspects of video game addiction. This has resulted in a wide-ranging selection of review papers focusing on different aspects of the topic. These include general literature reviews of video game addiction, reviews of online (as opposed to offline) gaming addiction, reviews of the main methodological issues in studying video game addiction, reviews of structural characteristics and their relationship with video game addiction, reviews of video game addiction treatment, reviews of video game addiction and co-morbidity/convergence with other addictions such as gambling addiction and Internet addiction, and miscellaneous review papers on very specific aspects of video game addictions such as social responsibility, screening instruments, or reviews refuting that video game addiction even exists.

Furthermore, the amount and the quality of research in the gaming addiction field has progressed much over the last decade but is still in its infancy compared to other more established behavioural addictions, such as pathological gambling. Today’s blog briefly provides a considered (and somewhat speculative) examination of what might happen in the gaming addiction field from a number of different standpoints (e.g., methodological, conceptual, technological). These are taken from a paper I recently published in Current Psychiatry Reviews with Dr. Daniel King (University of Adelaide, Australia) and Daria Kuss (Nottingham Trent University, UK). These trends were loosely modeled on a 2011 paper I wrote on the technological trends in gambling and published in Casino and Gaming International.

  • There is likely to be an even bigger increase in empirical research into problematic video game playing and video game addiction. This will of course be dependent on both appropriate funding streams and/or whether gaming addiction ends up being included in future psychiatric disorder classifications (e.g., Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, International Classification of Diseases, etc.). Future research is likely to include more epidemiological and/or general population data on media use, leading to better insights into the onset and course of problematic video game play and addiction.
  • Given the many different screening instruments that have been developed over the last decade, there is likely to be a refinement of video game addiction measures and greater consensus on its conceptualization, either as a single disorder and/or incorporated into other known disorders (e.g., impulse control disorder). This is also likely to lead to improved assessment tools based on such conceptualization(s).
  • Measures of gaming use and subsequent behaviour are likely to diversify in terms of media use, including social networking sites (SNS) and associated Internet resources. Already, games such as Call of Duty and Battlefield 3 are being released with their own SNS (e.g., COD Elite) that track player behaviour and provide feedback to players as to how to improve their game (thus functionally reinforcing video game play and thus have implications for excessive and/or potentially addictive play).
  • Gaming on the move is likely to be a big growth area that may have implications for excessive gaming via ‘convenience’ hardware such as handheld gaming consoles, PDA devices, mobile phones, tablet computers, and MP3 players.
  • Given the fact that the Internet is gender-neutral, there is likely to be increasing feminization of gaming where increasing numbers of females not only engage in the playing of online games, but also develop problems as a result. Casual gaming online is already popular among females. However, the biggest difference between male and female gaming is likely to be content-based (e.g., males may prefer competitive type gaming experiences whereas females may prefer co-operative type gaming experiences).
  • Given the increasing number of research teams in the gambling field being given direct access to gambling companies behavioural tracking data, there is likely to be an increasing number of such collaborations in the gaming studies field.
  • Given the increased importance of additional research into the structural and situational characteristics of consumptive behaviours (e.g., smoking nicotine, drinking alcohol, gambling, etc.), it is likely that research on design features within games and their psychological impact (including potential addiction) will increase as well. Such research has already begun (including quite a few studies by our gaming research unit).
  • As the diagnosis of video game addiction becomes more legitimate in psychiatric and medical circles, it will lead to better randomized control trials on interventions for problematic video game play than the ones already carried out. There is also likely to be an increase in the online medium itself being used as a treatment channel. The reasons that people like to engage in some online leisure activities (i.e., the fact that the online environment is non-face-to-face, convenient, accessible, affordable, anonymous, non-threatening, non-alienating, non-stigmatizing, etc.) may also be the very same reasons why people would want to seek advice, help and treatment online rather than in face-to-face situations.

Based on our review paper there are several noticeable trends that can be drawn from our recent reviews of problematic video game play and video game addiction.

  • There has been a significant increase in empirical research decade by decade since the early 1980s.
  • There has been a noticeable (and arguably strategic) shift in researching the mode of video game play. In the 1980s, research mainly concerned ‘pay-to-play’ arcade video games. In the 1990s, research mainly concerned stand alone (offline) video games played at home on consoles, PCs or handheld devices. In the 2000s, research mainly concerned online massively multiplayer video games.
  • There has been a noticeable shift in how data are collected. Up until the early 2000s, data about video game behaviour was typically collected face-to-face, whereas contemporary studies collect data online, strategically targeting online forums where gamers are known to (virtually) congregate. These samples are typically self-selecting and (by default) unrepresentative of the general population. Therefore, generalization is almost always one of the methodological shortcomings of this data collection approach.
  • Survey study sample sizes have generally increased. In the 1980s and 1990s, sample sizes were typically in the low hundreds. In the 2000s, sample sizes in their thousands – even if unrepresentative – are not uncommon.
  • There has been a diversification in the way data are collected including experiments, physiological investigations, secondary analysis of existing data (such as that collected from online forums), and behavioural tracking studies.
  • There has been increased research on adult (i.e., non-child and non-adolescent) samples reflecting the fact that the demographics of gaming have changed.
  • There has been increasing sophistication in relation to issues concerning assessment and measurement of problematic video game play and video game addiction. In the last few years, instruments have been developed that have more robust psychometric properties in terms of reliability and validity. However, there are still some concerns as many of the most widely used screening instruments were adapted from adult screens and much of the video game literature has examined children and adolescents. In other papers I have co-written with Dr. King, we have asserted that to enable future advances in the development and testing of interventions for video game-related problems, there must be some consensus among clinicians and researchers as to the precise classification of these problems. (In fact, we’ve just had a major review paper accepted on assessing video game addiction in Clinical Psychology Review which I examined in a previous blog).

Clearly, there exist a number of gaps in current understanding of problematic video game play and video game addiction. There is a need for epidemiological research to determine the incidence and prevalence of clinically significant problems associated with video game play in the broader population. There are too few clinical studies that describe the unique features and symptoms of problematic video game play and/or video game addiction. While the current empirical base is relatively small, gaming addiction has become a more mainstream area for psychological and psychiatric research and is likely to become an area of significant importance given the widespread popularity of gaming.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Additional input: Daria Kuss and Daniel King

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Online video gaming: What should educational psychologists know? Educational Psychology in Practice, 26(1), 35-40.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Technological trends and the psychosocial impact on gambling. Casino and Gaming International, 7(1), 77-80.

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J. & King, D.L. (2012). Video game addiction: Past, present and future. Current Psychiatry Reviews, 8, 308-318.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2009). The psychological study of video game players: Methodological challenges and practical advice. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 7, 555-562.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Video game structural characteristics: A new psychological taxonomy. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 90-106.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The role of structural characteristics in problem video game playing: A review. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace. Located at: http://www.cyberpsychology.eu/view.php?cisloclanku=2010041401&article=6.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The convergence of gambling and digital media: Implications for gambling in young people. Journal of Gambling Studies, 26, 175-187.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Cognitive behavioural therapy for problematic video game players: Conceptual considerations and practice issues. Journal of CyberTherapy and Rehabilitstion, 3, 261-273.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H., Griffiths, M.D. & Gradisar, M. (2011). Assessing clinical trials of Internet addiction treatment: A systematic review and CONSORT evaluation. Clinical Psychology Review, 31, 1110-1116.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Clinical interventions for technology-based problems: Excessive Internet and video game use. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy: An International Quarterly, 26, 43-56.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H., Griffiths, M.D. & Gradisar, M. (2012). Cognitive-behavioural approaches to outpatient treatment of Internet addiction in children and adolescents. Journal of Clinical Psychology: In Session, 68, 1185-1195.

King, D.L., Haagsma, M.C., Delfabbro, P.H.,Gradisar, M.S. &, Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Psychometric assessment of pathological video-gaming: A systematic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 33, 331-342.

Trivial pursuits: Can playing pub quiz machines be addictive?

This morning I appeared on BBC radio talking about excessive playing of trivia (quiz) machines because there is a story in today’s Daily Mail about a man (Christian Drummond) who claims he makes £60,000 a year from playing pub quiz machines. In the UK, trivia machines are a type of ‘Skill With Prize’ (SWP) machine where cash payouts (the prize) depends (at least in part) on the player’s skill. I certainly spent far too much of my student grant playing the snooker general knowledge SWP game Give Us A Break in the university bar. Quiz machines are the most common form of SWP machine and are known to be very profitable for operators. A Wikipedia entry on SWP machines notes that the SWP game Barber Cut was advertised as “more addicting than any other prize redemption game, and those repeat-plays will land right in your cash box!”.

Here’s a little background for those who are still not sure what I am talking about. SWP trivia machines usually have a pre-programmed set of ‘general knowledge’ questions. The machine game is activated after the insertion of money (now typically 50p or £1, although it used to be 10p-20p when I was a regular player). On answering a pre-determined number of multiple-choice questions correctly, successful players can win money (the most I ever remember winning was £5). In some cases, successful players may also be rewarded with free plays on the machine and/or with the added bonus on some games of being able to record names and high scores electronically on the game’s ‘hall of fame’ (something that I never achieved in all the times I ever played). I still occasionally play (my most recent session losing about £10 playing a Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? trivia game).

On a purely personal level, I love trivia, and it appears that I am not the only one. I came across an online article outlining the top ten “modern human addictions” and was surprised that ‘trivia’ was at No.7. As the article noted:

“Most of us love to learn and understand things, but how often do we absorb tiny little bits of inconsequential trivia? More often than you may think! TV advertisements and billboards coax us with facts and figures, magazines deliver tantalizing tit-bits of scandal and gossip, and the internet fills our minds with thousands of facts…The world is full of trivia. A trivia addict is often someone who’s main pleasure in life is to memorize random facts and spout them off to onlookers in an attempt to make themselves look good, and who often dreams of winning the pub quiz or a game show for a huge cash prize. Trivia buffs often wallow in small-talk, gossip, and rumor and sometimes aggrandize subjects the rest of us care little about”.

On a more academic footing, I wrote briefly about SWPs in both of my first two books (Adolescent Gambling, 1995; Gambling and Gaming Addiction in Adolescence, 2002) and noted that there was some anecdotal evidence of problematic and potentially addictive play. In my first book I also introduced the concept of ‘technological addictions’. I wrote that:

“My own operational definition is that [technological addictions] are non-chemical (behavioural) addictions which involve human-machine interaction. They can either be passive (e.g. television) or active (e.g. computer games) and usually contain inducing and reinforcing features which may contribute to the promotion of addictive tendencies. The category of technological addictions is not mutually exclusive and contains addictive activities that could be located under other kinds of addiction…There is little in the way of academic literature on technological addictions but possible activities that could be included under this category are television addiction, computer addiction (e.g. hacking, programming), video and computer game addiction, fruit machine addiction, pinball addiction, trivia machine addiction, telephone sex addiction and in the (near?) future, virtual reality addiction”.

Basically, I said that it was theoretically possible to become addicted to playing SWP machines, but had yet to come across any empirical evidence that such an addiction genuinely existed. And that’s still the case as far as I am concerned. I am still unaware of any empirical research study examining SWP addiction and problematic play (excluding video game addiction and a case study I published on pinball addiction back in a 1993 issue of Psychological Reports). Having said that, it’s not hard to see the psychological attraction of playing and how excessive playing develops. Like playing slot machines and video games, SWP machines utilize operant conditioning techniques, provide ‘near miss’ experiences, are deceptively inexpensive, simple to play, challenging, competitive, and excellent at modifying mood states. The rewards can be social, financial, psychological, and physiological. All in all, they contain many of the psychological ingredients that can be utilized in the addiction process.

I’ve searched online for any self-confessed accounts of SWP addiction but have found little. Here are a few quotes suggesting that for a tiny minority, SWP playing might be potentially problematic:

  • Extract 1: “I think I might be slightly addicted to these quiz machines. At risk of sounding melodramatic, and to paraphrase the film ‘Fight Club’, after playing a quiz machine, the volume of the rest of life is turned down. Once you’ve played a few times, you no longer feel alive unless you’re playing a quiz machine. All you can see in front of you is victory; the massive debts that are mounting up are hidden behind a veil of aspiration and false hope. I seem to pour in pound after pound in the vague hope of one-upping a computer-controlled device with a fixed payout rate that will control the difficulty accordingly. My struggle transcends any monetary gain from playing these stupid quiz games and it becomes about winning
  • Extract 2: “I’m from England, and a massive fad of us legal to drink teenagers is to waste our money on these ‘Pub Quiz’ machines, to a stupid point of having no money at all left. The only problem is that the pub always closes at some point, and I need to feed my addiction for the games on them”
  • Extract 3: It’s official. I have a new addiction. It has descended upon me in the form of a game. A quiz machine game. And it goes by the name ELIMINATOR! It’s not just any game though. It is the most compulsively obsessive thing I have ever seen in my entire life”

Since November 1st 2010, all SWP machines in the UK must conform to strict guidelines by both the Gambling Commission and BACTA (British Amusement and Catering Trade Association). As the Wikipedia entry in SWP machines notes:

“These guidelines say that there must be NO element of chance within the game that can affect the outcome. There are also limits set on the level of skill needed to play, for example there must be a minimum amount of time for a player to react to the game. This is so that manufacturers and operators can’t be accused of setting ridiculous skill levels that aren’t physically possible…While SWP machines are generally not intended to be winnable by skilled players – otherwise such a player could continue to play and win and causes losses to the operator – it is sometimes possible that player skill, or using the machine in a way not anticipated by the manufacturer, can result in the game becoming winnable. This may result in service updates by the manufacturer to close the exploit”.

As I have noted in many of my academic writings, one of the key trends in the gaming world is convergence. The convergence between gambling and SWP machines means that the British Gambling Commission are frequently asked whether particular skill with prize machines are gambling machines. Their response is always to say that: “the answer to that question depends upon whether any of the games offered on the machine amount to ‘gaming’ as defined in…the Gambling Act” (which is a whole new blog in itself).

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Gambling Act (2010). Is a prize machine a gambling machine? Birmingham: Gambling Commission.

Griffiths, M.D. (1991). Amusement machine playing in childhood and adolescence: A comparative analysis of video games and fruit machines. Journal of Adolescence, 14, 53-73.

Griffiths, M.D. (1992). Pinball wizard: A case study of a pinball addict. Psychological Reports, 71, 160-162.

Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Technological addictions. Clinical Psychology Forum, 76, 14-19.

Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Adolescent Gambling. London: Routledge.

Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Gambling and Gaming Addictions in Adolescence. Leicester: British Psychological Society/Blackwells.

Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Digital impact, crossover technologies and gambling practices. Casino and Gaming International, 4(3), 37-42.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Gaming convergence: Further legal issues and psychosocial impact. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 14, 461-464.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The convergence of gambling and digital media: Implications for gambling in young people. Journal of Gambling Studies, 26, 175-187.

Lifeschool (2009). Top 10 modern addictions. Listverse, October 15. Located at: http://listverse.com/2009/10/15/top-10-modern-human-addictions/

Wikipedia (2012). Skill with prize. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skill_With_Prize