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Profess on excess in the press: Problematic gaming as a behavioural addiction

As a Professor of Behavioural Addiction, one of duties is to profess. Consequently, today’s blog contains content from an interview that I did on problematic gaming as a behavioural addiction for a Spanish magazine. Because the published version was in Spanish I thought my blog readers might be interested in what I had to profess about behavioural addiction in its simplest terms (plus I never like to see things to be left unused or go to waste!).

The focus of your work is mainly behavioural addiction, could you start by giving a brief overview of what behavoural addiction is?

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 become addicted to non-chemical behaviours. I have written a number of papers over the past 30 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.

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Whilst a lot of work is around gambling addictions, you also do work on videogame addiction. What drew you to this area of research?

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.

Do you feel that online gaming poses more of an issue than offline?

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 (the so-called ‘FOMO’ phenomenon – ‘fear of missing out’). 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.

Are there any potential problems, in your field or otherwise, that could arise from the rapidly expanding user base of video games?

Obviously this depends on the types of game played and their content. 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. 

Can a person could spend a great deal of times playing games without being an addict?

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, Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Gentile, D.A., Bailey, K., Bavelier, D., Funk Brockmeyer, J., … Griffiths, M.D., … & Young, K. (2017). The state of the science about Internet Gaming Disorder as defined by DSM-5: Implications and perspectives, Pediatrics, 140, S81-S85. doi: 10.1542/peds.2016-1758H

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The role of context in online gaming excess and addiction: Some case study evidence. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 119-125.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). An overview of online gaming addiction. In Quandt, T. & Kröger, S. (Eds.), Multi.player – Social Aspects of Digital Gaming (pp.197-203). London: Routledge.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Online gaming addiction in adolescence: A literature review of empirical research. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 3-22.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet gaming addiction: A systematic review. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 10, 278-296.

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

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J. & Pontes, H.M. (2016). A brief overview of Internet Gaming Disorder and its treatment. Australian Clinical Psychologist, 2(1), 20108.

Király, O., Nagygyörgy, K., Griffiths, M.D. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). Problematic online gaming. In K. Rosenberg & L. Feder (Eds.), Behavioral Addictions: Criteria, Evidence and Treatment (pp.61-95). New York: Elsevier.

Pontes, H.M., Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Psychometric assessment of Internet Gaming Disorder in neuroimaging studies: A systematic review. In Montag, C. & Reuter, M. (Eds.), Internet Addiction Neuroscientific Approaches and Therapeutical Implications (pp.181-208). New York: Springer.

Pontes, H.M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). New concepts, old known issues: The DSM-5 and Internet Gaming Disorder and its assessment. In Gaming and Technology Addiction (pp. 893-898). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Torres-Rodriguez, A., Griffiths, M.D., Carbonell, X. Farriols-Hernando, N. & Torres-Jimenez, E. (2019). Internet gaming disorder treatment: A case study evaluation of four adolescent problematic gamers. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 17, 1-12.

Torres-Rodriguez, A., Griffiths, M.D., Carbonell, X. & Oberst, U. (2018). Psychological characteristics of an adolescent clinical sample with Internet Gaming Disorder. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 7, 707-718.

The (not so) beautiful game: A brief look at problematic videogame playing among professional football players

Today’s blog briefly looks at the issue of problematic gaming amongst footballers and whether it is an issue that professional football clubs must take seriously. In a previous article I wrote about gambling (and gambling addiction) among professional footballers which has become a well-known issue over the last couple of decades. The reasons for why professional footballers gamble have similarities to why they play videogames.

It is the night before a big match. Professional football players are confined to staying in a hotel. No sex. No alcohol. No junk food. Basically, no access to all the things they might love. To pass time, footballers may watch television, play cards for money, or play a video game believing these are ‘healthier’ for them. The difficulty in detecting problematic gaming is likely to be one factor in its growth over other forms of potential addiction – especially as many players are more health-conscious and the testing for alcohol and drugs is now more rigorous. However, any of these ‘healthier’ activities when taken to excess can cause problems. Many years ago, England goalkeeper David James once claimed his loss of form was because of his round-the-clock video game playing. In short, the top players are very well paid and inevitably have lots of time on their hands.

During my career, I have been asked a handful of times by the press to comment on why footballers play videogames. For instance, I was recently interviewed by The i newspaper about the medical consequences of excessive gaming after a story emerged that Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil frequent back problems may have been related to the excessive amount of time he spent playing Fortnite (at least according to Professor Ingo Frobose at the Sport University Cologne in Germany).

mesut-ozil

Although the English Football Association has strict rules on gambling by footballers, there are none (as far as I am aware) on the playing of videogames (and to be honest there is no real need to do so). There are many reasons why footballers may gamble or play videogames to excess compared to other less ‘healthy’ behaviours like excessive drinking or drug taking. It is a shame that addictions to drugs and alcohol tend to generate more sympathy among the general public as many people view gambling and gaming as self-inflicted vices. But gambling or gaming to excess can be just as destructive because of the huge consequences on time and/or money.

According to a story earlier this week in The Sun newspaper, an “English football star” (who wanted to remain anonymous so as not to damage his reputation) had allegedly been playing the Fortnite videogame for up to 16 hours a day which he said was threatening his career (and his relationship) and causing him to miss training sessions. He also claimed there are many more in the sport” just like him. By speaking out about the issue, his motive is to “raise awareness about an addiction which has been described as a ‘silent epidemic’ in football”. The Sun claimed that the footballer’s story was “likely to resonate with dozens of his fellow professionals, who also while away their free time on consoles”. Other footballers such as Mesut Ozil and Harry Kane have claimed to big fans of playing Fortnite. The Sun also claimed that the Professional Footballers’ Association had been contacted by football clubs concerned about the amount of gaming habits by players. In the footballer’s interview with The Sun, he said that:

 “[My] gaming has become a massive problem. When I get back from training, the first thing I do is turn the Xbox on to play Fortnite. I play for about eight to ten hours a day, but I once played 16 hours non-stop the day before a match. When we have away matches and we travel by coach, I am gaming from the moment we leave and then I carry on in my hotel room at night. It is quite normal for me to stay up playing until two o’clock or three o’clock in the morning. I get a lot of eye strain, I am tired the next day and I miss training sometimes. When I started missing training, that was when I knew I needed help as I was getting in trouble from my club. This has been going on for about a year now. If I get told to come off the game, I am sometimes quite aggressive. I have mood swings. If I keep gaming, I worry that it could potentially finish my career. It is also affecting my relationship with my girlfriend because I play on the Xbox instead of seeing her…I think some of my team-mates need help as well. About 50 per cent of our squad are into gaming. And I know they play for a lot of hours because I play Fortnite with them – as well as with players from other clubs.”

The Sun also spoke to the footballer’s psychotherapist Steve Pope. He is currently treating five professional footballers who have problematic gaming and he was quoted as saying:

“Over the last few years, we have probably treated more than 20 footballers for this problem alone. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. They are all at it. It is the biggest scourge of our times. It’s a silent epidemic because footballers can’t be tested for it. I don’t think clubs realise what a big problem this is and the debilitating effect excessive gaming has on a player’s psyche. They wouldn’t let a footballer have a bottle of vodka in their hotel room the night before a game, so why would they let him loose with an Xbox?…If it’s a national problem, which gaming is, then why shouldn’t it affect footballers who have hours and hours to kill on planes, trains and coaches, and then sit in hotel rooms by themselves? For footballers, the real appeal about computer games is that, unlike with other addictions, they can’t be tested for it. It is a problem that needs to be outed to save players’ careers”.

Pope then went on to say:

“Footballers have an addictive personality because that’s what makes them good at their job. From an early age at academies, they are conditioned to work for a high, whether that is making a great pass or scoring a great goal. That is the work-for high. The brain likes that feeling, likes that elation, likes that rush. But if they are not getting that high from football, they are getting it from something else – alcohol, drugs, gambling or gaming. That is the lazy high. Footballers are trained to be competitive and with the kind of games they are playing, Fortnite or Fifa, they are continually in a competition. It’s a follow on from playing football. The trouble is they are playing the games all night and use up all their happy chemicals so their brain is imbalanced. So come the match the following day, they are as flat as a pancake. They are a jangled wreck, trying to clear their head. When I worked in-house at Fleetwood, we banned game stations the night before matches. I would walk the hotel corridors at night time nicking PlayStations and Xboxes to stop them using them”.

Whilst I don’t subscribe to the idea of an addictive personality, much of what Pope says I agree with. It’s not hard to see how professional footballers can get hooked into gaming. Consequently, time rich and money rich young footballers need to be educated about the potential downsides of excessive videogame playing.

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

Further reading

Coverdale. D. (2019). Football’s silent addiction: Gaming makes me aggressive and I’m worried it’ll end my career. The Sun, march 28. Located at: https://www.thesun.co.uk/sport/football/8735239/football-silent-addiction-gaming-fortnight-addiction-career/

Griffiths, M.D. (2006). All in the game. Inside Edge: The Gambling Magazine, July (Issue 28), p. 67.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Gambling addiction among footballers: causes and consequences. World Sports Law Report, 8(3), 14-16.

Wigmore, T. (2018). If Mesut Ozil really is addicted to Fortnite then Arsenal have a problem. The i, December 14. Located at: https://inews.co.uk/sport/football/mesut-ozil-fortnite-addicted-gaming-arsenal-injury-news/

(Loot) boxing clever? Has child and adolescent problem gambling really risen in the UK?

A couple of months ago, teenage gambling was grabbing the media headlines. The UK Gambling Commission published its annual statistics showing that based on a self-report survey of 2865 children and adolescents aged 11-16 year-olds, that the prevalence of problem gambling had risen to 1.7% (2% for boys and 1.3% for girls) compared to 0.4% in 2016 and 0.9% in 2017. This lead to predictable headlines such as Number of child gamblers quadruples in just two years”.

I’ve been researching adolescent gambling for over three decades and was the topic for my first two books in 1995 and 2002. While the figures were concerning, the good news is that the prevalence of adolescent problem gambling has been on the decline in the UK over the past 20 years. For instance, the prevalence of adolescent problem gambling back in 2000 was approximately 5% but by 2016 was less than one-tenth of that. The rise over the past two years is a potential worry although the Gambling Commission’s ‘technical annex’ report about the methodology used to collect the data for the latest survey did suggest that one of the main reasons for the significant increase in problem gambling was likely due to a change in the way data were collected.

In short, the filtering questions in the latest study were changed (so that they more matched the adult gambling prevalence surveys that are carried out) which lead to a doubling of teenagers completing the problem gambling screen that was used to assess problem gambling (18% completing the problem gambling screen in 2017 compared to 34% in 2018). However, it is still worth noting that using the same methodology, there was more than a doubling of adolescent problem gambling from 2016 to 2017 (0.4% to 0.9%).

Screen Shot 2019-02-28 at 09.22.39

If there has been a genuine increase in adolescent problem gambling over the past couple of years, I think one of the main factors in this is the playing of simulated gambling games (or gambling-like activities such as the buying of loot boxes) in video games. The Gambling Commission’s report noted that 13% had played gambling-style games online, and that 31% had accessed loot boxes in a videogame or app, to try to acquire in-game items.

The buying of loot boxes takes place within online videogames and are (in essence) virtual games of chance. Players use real money to buy virtual in-game items and can redeem such items by buying keys to open the boxes where they receive a chance selection of further virtual items. Other types of equivalent in-game virtual assets that can be bought include crates, cases, chests, bundles, and card packs. The virtual items that can be ‘won’ can comprise basic customization (i.e., cosmetic) options for a player’s in-game character (avatar) to in-game assets that can help players progress more effectively in the game (e.g., gameplay improvement items such as weapons, armour). All players hope that they can win ‘rare’ items and are often encouraged to spend more money to do so because the chances of winning such items are minimal. Many popular videogames now feature loot boxes and these require the paying of real money in exchange for a completely random in-game item.

At present, the UK Gambling Commission does not consider loot boxes as a form of gambling because (they claim) the in-game items have no real-life value outside of the game. However, this is not the case because there are many websites that allow players to trade in-game items and/or virtual currency for real money. The Gambling Commission appears to acknowledge this point and claim that the buying of in-game loot boxes (and their equivalents) are not gambling but, if third party sites become involved (by allowing the buying and selling of in-game items), the activity does become a form of gambling. Personally, I view the buying of loot boxes as a form of gambling, particularly because the ‘prizes’ won are (in financial terms) often a lot less than that of the price paid.

A study published in the journal PLoS ONE claimed they had evidence for a link between the amount that videogame players spent on loot boxes and problem gambling severity in a large survey of 7422 gamers. The paper concluded that:

“This link was stronger than a link between problem gambling and buying other in-game items with real-world money…suggesting that the gambling-like features of loot boxes are specifically responsible for the observed relationship between problem gambling and spending on loot boxes”

However, this evidence is correlational not causal. I’ve also cited empirical research in my academic papers that engaging in simulated gambling within videogames is a risk factor for both gambling with real money and problem gambling. In November 2018, the Mail on Sunday (MoS) published some of my concerns after they interviewed me about the issue of simulated gambling in online videogames. Although no real money is staked, I have argued that such activities normalize gambling for children and that such activities behaviourally condition children towards gambling.

The MoS claimed that I said that children should be banned from playing online games such as Candy Crush. What I actually said was that children should be prohibited from engaging in gambling simulations within videogames. Candy Crush now features a gambling-type element in the form of a ‘wheel of fortune’ type game (which has also been used in other videogames like Runescape and which I have also argued are gambling when players have to pay to spin the wheel) and that children should be prohibited from accessing such gambling-like features. There is no evidence that the playing of Candy Crush causes problematic behaviour but the playing of simulated gambling-type games has been shown to be a risk factor for problem gambling among adolescents.

The question as to whether there has been a genuine increase in problem gambling among children and adolescents cannot be answered from the Gambling Commission’s latest report but based on other pieces of research there does appear to have been a slight rise over the past couple of years.

(Please note that a different version of this article was first published in The Conversation).

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

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). Gambling and Gaming Addictions in Adolescence. Leicester: British Psychological Society/Blackwells.

Griffiths, M.D.  (2003). Adolescent gambling: Risk factors and implications for prevention, intervention, and treatment. In D. Romer (Ed.), Reducing Adolescent Risk: Toward An Integrated Approach (pp. 223-238). London: Sage.

Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Adolescent gambling in Great Britain. Education Today: Quarterly Journal of the College of Teachers. 58(1), 7-11.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Adolescent gambling. In B. Bradford Brown & Mitch Prinstein (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Adolescence (Volume 3) (pp.11-20). San Diego: Academic Press.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Adolescent gambling via social networking sites: A brief overview. Education and Health, 31, 84-87.

Griffiths, M.D. (2018). Is the buying of loot boxes in videogames a form of gambling or gaming? Gaming Law Review, 22(1), 52-54.

Griffiths, M.D. & King, R. (2015). Are mini-games within RuneScape gambling or gaming? Gaming Law Review and Economics, 19, 64-643.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2010). Adolescent gambling on the Internet: A review. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 22, 59-75.

 

Eyes on the prize: Is the buying of loot boxes in videogames a form of gambling?

The buying of loot boxes takes place within online videogames and are (in essence) virtual games of chance. Players use real money to buy virtual in-game items and can redeem such items by buying keys to open the boxes where they receive a chance selection of further virtual items. Other types of equivalent in-game virtual assets that can be bought include crates, cases, chests, bundles, and card packs. The virtual items that can be ‘won’ can comprise basic customization (i.e., cosmetic) options for a player’s in-game character (avatar) to in-game assets that can help players progress more effectively in the game (e.g., gameplay improvement items such as weapons, armor). All players hope that they can win ‘rare’ items and are often encouraged to spend more money to do so because the chances of winning such items are minimal. Many popular videogames now feature loot boxes (or equivalents) including Overwatch, Middle-earth: Shadow of War, Star Wars Battlefront 2, FIFA Ultimate Team, Mass Effect: Andromeda, Fortress 2, Injustice 2, Lawbreakers, Forza Motorsport 7, and For Honor. In short, all of these require the paying of real money in exchange for a completely random in-game item. In an interview with Eurogamer, psychologist Jamie Madigan said:

“Whenever you open [a loot box], you may get something awesome (or you may get trash). This randomness taps into some of the very fundamental ways our brains work when trying to predict whether or not a good thing will happen. We are particularly excited by unexpected pleasures like a patch of wild berries or an epic skin for our character. This is because our brains are trying to pay attention to and trying to figure out such awesome rewards. But unlike in the real world, these rewards can be completely random (or close enough not to matter) and we can’t predict randomness. But the reward system in your brain doesn’t know that. Buying [loot boxes] puts them into the same category of packs of Pokémon cards or baseball cards. Unlike gambling in a casino, you’re going to get something out of that pack. Maybe just not the thing you wanted”.

60838_07_hawaii-launchs-bills-ban-game-sales-containg-loot-boxes

Although there are many definitions in many disciplines defining gambling, there are a number of common elements that occur in the majority of gambling instances that distinguish ‘true’ gambling from mere risk-taking. These include: (i) the exchange is determined by a future event, which at the time of staking money (or something of financial value) the outcome is unknown, (ii) the result is determined (at least partly or wholly) by chance, (iii) the re-allocation of wealth (i.e., the exchange of money [or something of financial value] usually without the introduction of productive work on either side, and (iv) losses incurred can be avoided by simply not taking part in the activity in the first place. Added to this it could be argued that the money or prize to be won should be of greater financial value than the money staked in the first place. Based on these elements, the buying of loot boxes (or equivalents) would be classed as a form of gambling, as would other activities such as the Treasure Hunter and Squeal of Fortune games within the Runescape videogame and online penny auctions (which I have argued in previous papers – see ‘Further reading’).

In the UK Gambling Commission’s most recent (March 2017) position paper on virtual currencies and social casino gambling noted:

“One commonly used method for players to acquire in-game items is through the purchase of keys from the games publisher to unlock ‘crates’, ‘cases’ or ‘bundles’ which contain an unknown quantity and value of in-game items as a prize. The payment of a stake (key) for the opportunity to win a prize (in-game items) determined (or presented as determined) at random bears a close resemblance, for instance, to the playing of a gaming machine. Where there are readily accessible opportunities to cash in or exchange those awarded in-game items for money or money’s worth those elements of the game are likely to be considered licensable gambling activities [Section 3.17]…Additional consumer protection in the form of gambling regulation, is required in circumstances where players are being incentivised to participate in gambling style activities through the provision of prizes of money or money’s worth. Where prizes are successfully restricted for use solely within the game, such in-game features would not be licensable gambling, notwithstanding the elements of expenditure and chance [Section 3.18]”.

Consequently, the UK Gambling Commission does not consider loot boxes as a form of gambling because (they claim) the in-game items have no real-life value outside of the game. However, this is not the case because there are many websites that allow players to trade in-game items and/or virtual currency for real money. The Gambling Commission appear to acknowledge this point and claim that the buying of in-game loot boxes (and their equivalents) are not gambling but if third party sites become involved (by allowing the buying and selling of in-game items), the activity does become a form of gambling. As Vic Hood (in a 2017 article in Eurogamer) rightly notes, this appears to be a case of the law struggling to keep pace with technology. There are also issues surrounding age limits and whether games that offer loot boxes (or equivalents) should be restricted to those over the age of 18 years.

Predictably, those in the videogame industry do not view the buying of loot boxes as gambling either. For instance, Dirk Bosmans (from PEGI [Pan European Game Information], the European-based videogame rating organization) stated in a recent interview with Eurogamer that:

“Loot crates are currently not considered gambling: you always get something when you purchase them, even if it’s not what you hoped for. For that reason, a loot crate system does not trigger the gambling content descriptor. If something is considered gambling, it needs to follow a very specific set of legislation, which has all kinds of practical consequences for the company that runs it. Therefore, the games that get a PEGI gambling content descriptor either contain content that simulates what is considered gambling or they contain actual gambling with cash payouts. If PEGI would label something as gambling while it is not considered as such from a legal point of view, it would mostly create confusion. We are always monitoring such developments and mapping consumer complaints. We see a growing need for information about specific features in games and apps (social interaction, data sharing, digital purchases), but the challenge is that such features are rapidly becoming ubiquitous in the market, yet they still come in very different shapes and sizes.”

This appears somewhat hardline given that PEGI’s descriptor of gambling content is used whenever any videogame “teaches or encourages” gambling. Such a descriptor would arguably cover gambling-like games or activities and the buying of loot boxes is ‘gambling-like’ at the very least. The same stance has been taken by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) which rates videogames in Canada and the USA. A spokesman for the ESRB told Eurogamer that:

“ESRB does not consider [the buying of loot boxes] to be gambling because the player uses real money to pay for and obtain in-game content. The player is always guaranteed to receive something – even if the player doesn’t want what is received. Think of it like opening a pack of collectible cards: sometimes you’ll get a brand new, rare card, but other times you’ll get a pack full of cards you already have. That said, ESRB does disclose gambling content should it be present in a game via one of two content descriptors: Simulated Gambling (player can gamble without betting or wagering real cash or currency) and Real Gambling (player can gamble, including betting or wagering real cash or currency). Neither of these apply to loot boxes and similar mechanics.”

At present, there are a number of countries (mainly in South East Asia such as China and Japan) who do view the buying of loot boxes as a form of gambling and have incorporated such activities into their gambling regulation. However, most countries have either not considered regulating the buying of loot boxes at all, or (like the UK) have ruled out that buying loot boxes does not currently meet their regulatory definition of gambling. Although there has been little published in academic journals on loot boxes, a number of articles in the trade press have claimed that the buying of loot boxes can be problematic and/or addictive because they are designed using highly similar reward schedules to those used in the design of slot machines. This is something that have also pointed out in relation to similar activities to the buying of loot boxes where individuals play for points rather than money. Personally, I view the buying of loot boxes as a form of gambling particularly because the ‘prizes’ won are (in financial terms) often a lot less than that of the price paid. Obviously I am out of step in relation to the regulators in my own country, but if third party websites continue to host services where in-game virtual items can be bought and sold, the activity definitely constitutes a form of gambling by almost any definition of gambling currently used in the field of social sciences.

(N.B. This article uses material from a paper I recently published in Gaming Law Review)

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Alexandra, H. (2017). Loot boxes are designed to exploit us. Kotaku, October 13. https://kotaku.com/loot-boxes-are-designed-to-exploit-us-1819457592

Avard, A (2017). Video games have a loot box fetish, and it’s starting to harm the way we play. Games Radar, October 10. Located at: http://www.gamesradar.com/loot-boxes-shadow-of-war/

Gambling Commission (2017). Virtual currencies, esports and social casino gaming – position paper. Birmingham: Gambling Commission.

Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Adolescent gambling and gambling-type games on social networking sites: Issues, concerns, and recommendations. Aloma: Revista de Psicologia, Ciències de l’Educació i de l’Esport, 33(2), 31-37.

Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Is the buying of loot boxes in videogames a form of gambling or gaming? Gaming Law Review, 22(1), 52-54.

Griffiths, M.D. & Carran, M. (2015). Are online penny auctions a form of gambling? Gaming Law Review and Economics, 19, 190-196.

Griffiths, M.D. & King, R. (2015). Are mini-games within RuneScape gambling or gaming? Gaming Law Review and Economics, 19, 64-643.

Hood, V. (2017). Are loot boxes gambling? Eurogamer, October 12. Located at: Located at: http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2017-10-11-are-loot-boxes-gambling

Lawrence, N, (2017). The troubling psychology of pay-to-loot systems. IGN, April 23. Located at: http://uk.ign.com/articles/2017/04/24/the-troubling-psychology-of-pay-to-loot-systems

Perks, M. (2016). Limited edition loot boxes: Problematic gambling and monetization. Cube, October 11. Located at: https://medium.com/the-cube/limited-edition-loot-boxes-problematic-gambling-and-monetization-756819f2c54f

Wikipedia (2017). Loot box (2017). Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loot_box

Wiltshire, W. (2017). Behind the addictive psychology and seductive art of loot boxes. PC Gamer, September 29. Located at: http://www.pcgamer.com/behind-the-addictive-psychology-and-seductive-art-of-loot-boxes/

To see or not to see: A brief look at hallucinations in virtual reality applications

As a teenager I was fascinated with LSD purely as a consequence of my love of The Beatles and its alleged association with songs such as ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds‘ (I say ‘alleged’ because all Beatle fanatics know that this song got its’ title from a drawing by John Lennon’s son Julian and that lyrically the song was inspired by the writings of Lewis Carroll, the creator of Alice in Wonderland [AIW], a book which gave its’ name to AIW Syndrome that I examined in a couple of previous blogs).

When I first started teaching my ‘Addictive Behaviours’ module back in 1990, almost all my lectures concentrated on drug addictions (as opposed to behavioural addictions which now take centre stage in my teaching), and it was my session on hallucinogenic drugs (also known as psychedelic drugs) that was always the most fun to teach and the topic that students appeared to be most engaged in. Like many of my students, I have always been interested in altered states of consciousness both in my own research into addiction and the topic more generally.

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The reason why I mention all these things as that I did a media interview on the hallucinogenic effects of virtual reality products. The interview was based on comments by Microsoft researcher Mar Gonzalez Franco, who said that virtual reality will soon replace the need for hallucinogenic drugs. More specifically, she was quoted as saying:

“By 2027 we will have ubiquitous virtual reality systems that will provide such rich multi-sensorial experiences that will be capable of producing hallucinations which blend or alter perceived reality. Using this technology, humans will retrain, recalibrate and improve their perceptual systems…In contrast to current virtual reality systems that only stimulate visual and auditory senses, in the future the experience will expand to other sensory modalities including tactile with haptic devices“.

Claims that VR products have the potential to induce hallucinogenic experiences have already started appearing in the media. A recent story in the Daily Mail reported that there was already a VR app (SelfSound) that claimed it can reproduce the effects of hallucinogenic drugs and plays on the neurological phenomena known as synaesthesia and that a “program is used to promote mediation through creating abstract reality [and] plays face-melting music with synesthetic DMT-style visualizations uniquely generated in response to [a person’s] voice”. (DMT is an abbreviation for dimethyltryptamine, a powerful hallucinogenic drug).

Over the last seven years, I have published a series of studies with Dr. Angelica Ortiz de Gotari (some of them listed in the ‘Further reading’ section below) showing that hallucinations are common among video gamers in our working examining Game Transfer Phenomena (GTP). Therefore, it’s no surprise that VR games can do the same thing. We have reported that visual and auditory hallucinations are commonly experiences by regular videogame players.

For instance, one of our studies published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction found that some video gamers experience altered visual perceptions after playing (e.g., distorted versions of real world surroundings). Others saw video game images and misinterpreted real life objects after they had stopped playing. Gamers reported seeing video game menus popping up in front their eyes when they were in a conversation, or saw coloured images and ‘heads up’ displays when driving on the motorway. Our study analysed 656 experiences from 483 gamers collected in 54 online video game forums. Visual illusions can easily trick the brain, and staring at visual stimuli can cause ‘after-images’ or ‘ghost images’ among videogame players. We found that GTP were triggered by associations between video game experiences, and objects and activities in real life contexts. Our findings also raised questions about the effects of the exposure to specific visual effects used in video games.

We also reported that in some playing experiences, video game images appeared without awareness and control of the gamers, and in some cases, the images were uncomfortable, especially when gamers could not sleep or concentrate on something else. These experiences also resulted in irrational thoughts such as gamers questioning their own mental health, getting embarrassed or performing impulsive behaviours in social contexts. However, other gamers clearly thought that these experiences were fun and some even tried to induce them.

Visual experiences identified in GTP show us the interplay of physiological, perceptual and cognitive mechanisms and the potential of learning with video games even without awareness. It also invites us to reflect about the effects of prolonged exposure to synthetic stimuli and the challenges that the human mind affront due to the technological advances that are still to come. However, because we collected our data for most of our published studies from online video game forums, the psychological profile of the gamers in our studies are unknown. However, different gamers reported similar experiences in the same games. This highlights the relevance of the video games’ structural characteristics but gamers’ habits also appear to be crucial. Some gamers may be more susceptible than others to experience GTP. The effects of these experiences appear to be short-lived, but some gamers experience them recurrently. It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that more research is needed to understand the cognitive and psychological implications of GTP. Most of these GTP experiences are viewed positively but a small minority of players find them detrimental.

Whether such hallucinations – either in typical videogames or VR videogames – can be induced on demand is debatable. Very few players in our own research said they were able to induce hallucinations. At present, we simply don’t know what the long-term effects of VR gaming will be and that goes for VR-induced gaming hallucinations too. It may be the case that VR induced hallucinogenic states will be ‘safer’ than ones induced by psychedelic drugs as there is no ingestion of a psychoactive substance, but that’s just speculation on my part.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Cawley, C. (2016). Virtual Reality could make you hallucinate; Don’t freak out. Tech Co, December 15. Located at: http://tech.co/virtual-reality-hallucinate-dont-freak-2016-12

Hamill, J. (2016). Windows of perception: Microsoft says virtual reality will soon have same mind-bending effects as LSD. The Sun, December 7. Located at: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/2347705/microsoft-says-virtual-reality-will-soon-have-same-mind-bending-effects-as-lsd/

Liberatore, S. (2016). That’s trippy! Watch the VR app that claims to be able to reproduce the effects of a hallucinogenic drug. Daily Mail, May 4, Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3572184/That-s-trippy-Watch-VR-app-claims-able-reproduce-effects-hallucinogenic-drug.html

Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). An introduction to Game Transfer Phenomena in video game playing. In J. Gackenbach (Ed.), Video Game Play and Consciousness (pp.223-250). Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science.

Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Altered visual perception in Game Transfer Phenomena: An empirical self-report study. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 30, 95-105.

Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Auditory experiences in Game Transfer Phenomena: An empirical self-report study. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 4(1), 59-75.

Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Automatic mental processes, automatic actions and behaviours in Game Transfer Phenomena: An empirical self-report study using online forum data. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 432-452.

Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Game Transfer Phenomena and its associated factors: An exploratory empirical online survey study. Computers in Human Behavior, 51, 195-202.

Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Auditory experiences in Game Transfer Phenomena: An empirical self-report study. In: Gamification: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools, and Applications (pp.1329-1345). Pennsylvania: IGI Global.

Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Prevalence and characteristics of Game Transfer Phenomena: A descriptive survey study. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 32, 470-480.

Ortiz de Gortari, A.B., Pontes, H.M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The Game Transfer Phenomena Scale: An instrument for investigating the non-volitional effects of video game playing. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 18, 588-594.

Rothman, P. (2014). Virtual Reality and Drugs – Yes, you should get high before using VR. H Plus Magazine, July 31. Located at: http://hplusmagazine.com/2014/07/31/virtual-reality-and-drugs-yes-you-should-get-high-before-using-vr/

Screenage rampage: What should parents know about videogame playing for children?

Last month, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that it was planning to include ‘Gaming Disorder’ (GD) in the latest edition of the International Classification of Diseases. This followed the American Psychiatric Association’s decision to include ‘Internet Gaming Disorder’ in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 2013. According to the WHO, an individual with GD is a person who lets playing video games “take precedence over other life interests and daily activities,” resulting in “negative consequences” such as “significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.”

I have been researching videogame addiction for nearly 30 years, and during that time I have received many letters, emails, and telephone calls from parents wanting advice concerning videogames. Typical examples include ‘Is my child playing too much?’, ‘Will playing videogames spoil my pupils’ education?’, ‘Are videogames bad for children’s health? and ‘How do I know if a child is spending too long playing videogames?’ To answer these and other questions in a simple and helpful way, I have written this article as a way of disseminating this information quickly and easily.

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To begin with parents should begin by finding out what videogames their children are actually playing! Parents might find that some of them contain material that they would prefer them not to be having exposure to. If they have objections to the content of the games they should facilitate discussion with children about this, and if appropriate, have a few rules. A few aims with children should be:

  • To help them choose suitable games which are still fun
  • To talk with them about the content of the games so that they understand the difference between make-believe and reality
  • To discourage solitary game playing
  • To guard against obsessive playing
  • To follow recommendations on the possible risks outlined by videogame manufacturers
  • To ensure that they have plenty of other activities to pursue in their free time besides the playing of videogames

Parents need to remember that in the right context videogames can be educational (helping children to think and learn more quickly), can help raise a child’s self-esteem, and can increase the speed of their reaction times. Parents can also use videogames as a starting point for other activities like painting, drawing, acting or storytelling. All of these things will help a child at school. It needs to be remembered that videogame playing is just one of many activities that a child can do alongside sporting activities, school clubs, reading and watching the television. These can all contribute to a balanced recreational diet.

The most asked question a parent wants answering is ‘How much videogame playing is too much? To help answer this question I devised the following checklist. It is designed to check if a child’s videogame playing is getting out of hand. Ask these simple questions. Does your child:

  • Play videogames every day?
  • Often play videogames for long periods (e.g., 3 to 6 hours at a time)?
  • Play videogames for excitement or ‘buzz’ or as a way of forgetting about other things in their life?
  • Get restless, irritable, and moody if they can’t play videogames?
  • Sacrifice social and sporting activities to play videogames?
  • Play videogames instead of doing their homework?
  • Try to cut down the amount of videogame playing but can’t?

If the answer is ‘yes’ to more than four of these questions, then your child may be playing too much. But what can you do if your child is playing videogames too much?

  • First of all, check the content of the games. Try and give children games that are educational rather than the violent ones. Parents usually have control over what their child watches on television – videogames should not be any different.
  • Secondly, try to encourage video game playing in groups rather than as a solitary activity. This will lead to children talking and working together.
  • Thirdly, set time limits on children’s playing time. Tell them that they can play for a couple of hours after they have done their homework or their chores – not before.
  • Fourthly, parents should always get their children to follow the recommendations by the videogame manufacturers (e.g., sit at least two feet from the screen, play in a well-lit room, never have the screen at maximum brightness, and never play videogames when feeling tired).

I have spent many years examining both the possible dangers and the potential benefits of videogame playing. Evidence suggests that in the right context videogames can have positive health and educational benefits to a large range of different sub-groups. What is also clear from the case studies displaying the more negative consequences of playing is that they all involved children who were excessive users of videogames. From prevalence studies in this area, there is little evidence of serious acute adverse effects on health from moderate play. In fact, in some of my studies, I found that moderate videogame players were more likely to have friends, do homework, and engage in sporting activities, than those who played no videogames at all.

For excessive videogame players, adverse effects are likely to be relatively minor, and temporary, resolving spontaneously with decreased frequency of play, or to affect only a small subgroup of players. Excessive players are the most at-risk from developing health problems although more research is needed. If care is taken in the design, and if they are put into the right context, videogames have the potential to be used as training aids in classrooms and therapeutic settings, and to provide skills in psychomotor coordination, and in simulations of real life events (e.g., training recruits for the armed forces).

Every week I receive emails from parents claiming that their sons are addicted to playing online games or that their daughters are addicted to social media. When I ask them why they think this is the case, they almost all reply “because they spend most of their leisure time in front of a screen.” This is simply a case of parents pathologising their children’s behaviour because they think what they are doing is “a waste of time.” I always ask parents the same three things in relation to their child’s screen use. Does it affect their schoolwork? Does it affect their physical education? Does it affect their peer development and interaction? Usually parents say that none of these things are affected so if that is the case, there is little to worry about when it comes to screen time. Parents also have to bear in mind that this is how today’s children live their lives. Parents need to realise that excessive screen time doesn’t always have negative consequences and that the content and context of their child’s screen use is more important than the amount of screen time.

(N.B. This article is an extended version of an article that was originally published by Parent Zone)

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2003).  Videogames: Advice for teachers and parents. Education and Health, 21, 48-49.

Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Online computer gaming: Advice for parents and teachers. Education and Health, 27, 3-6.

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

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J. & Pontes, H. (2016). A brief overview of Internet Gaming Disorder and its treatment. Australian Clinical Psychologist, 2(1), 20108.

Griffiths, M.D. & Meredith, A. (2009). Videogame addiction and treatment. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 39(4), 47-53.

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, 68, 1185-1195.

Király, O., Nagygyörgy, K., Griffiths, M.D. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). Problematic online gaming. In K. Rosenberg & L. Feder (Eds.), Behavioral Addictions: Criteria, Evidence and Treatment (pp.61-95). New York: Elsevier.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Online gaming addiction in adolescence: A literature review of empirical research. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 3-22.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet gaming addiction: A systematic review. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 10, 278-296.

Ga(y)ming studies: The importance of sexuality in video gaming

Back in May 2014, hundreds of news outlets reported on Nintendo’s decision not to allow gamers to play as gay characters and form same-sex relationships in the life-simulation game Tomodachi Life. Understandably, there was disquiet and outrage from a number of quarters despite Nintendo’s statement that “Tomodachi Life was intended to be a whimsical and quirky game [and] not trying to provide social commentary”. Their statement at the time appeared to fan the flames rather than silence the critics.

I have been researching video game play for almost three decades and I’ve always found issues surrounding character formation, sexuality, and gender in gaming of great psychological interest. In one of our studies we found that a majority of gamers (57%) had gender-swapped their game character with female gamers (68%) being more likely to gender swap than male gamers (54%). We argued that gender swapping enabled gamers to play around and experiment with various aspects of their in-game character that are not so easy to do in real life. For others it was just fun to see if they felt any different playing a different gendered character. What makes our findings interesting is that in most instances, the gamers had the opportunity to choose the gender of their character and to develop other aspects of their character before they began to play. Choosing to gender swap may have had an effect on the gamers’ styles of play and interaction with other gamers. Whatever the reasons, it was clear from our research that the development of gamers’ online characters and avatars was important to them.

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One of the reasons for the importance of online gaming identities may be because it subverts traditional parasocial interaction (PI). PI is a concept used by psychologists that has traditionally described one-sided, parasocial interpersonal relationships in situations where one individual knows a great deal about someone else, but where the other person knows little about the other (the most common being the relationship between celebrities and their fans).

A study led by Nicholas Bowman (and published in a 2012 issue of the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking [CPBSN]) argued that the playing of video games challenges this concept “as the distance between game players and characters is greatly reduced, if not completely removed, in virtual environments.” The study claimed that online gaming encourages the “psychological merging of a player’s and a character’s mind” and is critical in the development of character attachment. In this context, the sexuality of a character for a player may be of fundamental psychological importance.

This appears to be confirmed in a paper by Melissa Lewis and colleagues (also published in CPBSN) who developed a scale to assess ‘character attachment’ (the connection felt by a video game player toward a video game character”). They found that character attachment had a significant relationship with self-esteem, addiction, game enjoyment, and time spent playing games.

American researcher Dr. Adrienne Shaw has carried out a number of studies into lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) representation in video games from a cultural production perspective. She was one of the first academics in the gaming studies field to note that there was a relative lack of LGBT representation in video games. Other areas of the entertainment media (e.g., music, film, and television) appear to have much greater LGBT representation than in video games so it does beg the question of why the gaming industry appears to be behind in this respect. I recall writing a paper back in 1993 (in The Psychologist) where I argued that most video games at the time were designed by males for other males. This arguably alienated female gamers but eventually led to developers introducing strong female characters into video games (the most notable being Lara Croft in Tomb Raider). Maybe the appearance of LGBT characters and role models within games will increase over time but I’m not holding my breath.

In a more recent paper in a 2012 paper in the journal New Media and Society, Dr. Shaw claimed that the demand for minority representation in video games “often focuses on proving that members of marginalized groups are gamers” and that the gaming industry should focus on appealing to such players via targeted content. However, she argues that an individual’s identity as a gamer will intersect with “other identities like gender, race, and sexuality.” She then goes on to say that the negative connotations about being an online gamer may lead to such marginalized groups not wanting to engage in gaming. She concluded that “those invested in diversity in video games must focus their attention on the construction of the medium, and not the construction of the audience…[This] is necessary to develop arguments for representation in games that do not rely on marking groups as specific kinds of gaming markets via identifiers like gender, race, and sexuality.”

Nintendo’s decision not to allow gay relationships to form within Tomodachi Life was ill-judged, ill-informed, and outdated. Games in which identity content can be generated by its users needs to reflect the world in which the gamers’ live. In short, there should be no compromise when it comes to allowing gamers to choose their sexuality within the game.

(N.B. A version of this article first appeared in The Conversation)

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Bowman, N. D., Schultheiss, D., & Schumann, C. (2012). “I’m attached, and I’m a good guy/gal!”: how character attachment influences pro-and anti-social motivations to play massively multiplayer online role-playing games. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15(3), 169-174

Griffiths, M.D. (1993). Are computer games bad for children? The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 6, 401-407.

Griffiths, M.D., Arcelus, J. & Bouman, W.P. (2016). Video gaming and gender dysphoria: Some case study evidence. Aloma: Revista de Psicologia, Ciències de l’Educació i de l’Esport, 34(2), 59-66.

Hussain, Z., & Griffiths, M. D. (2008). Gender swapping and socializing in cyberspace: An exploratory study. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 11(1), 47-53.

Lewis, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Confronting gender representation: A qualitative study of the experiences and motivations of female casual-gamers. Aloma: Revista de Psicologia, Ciències de l’Educació i de l’Esport, 28, 245-272.

Lewis, M. L., Weber, R., & Bowman, N. D. (2008). “They may be pixels, but they’re MY pixels:” Developing a metric of character attachment in role-playing video games. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 11(4), 515-518.

McLean, L. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Female gamers: A thematic analysis of their gaming experience. International Journal of Games-Based Learning, 3(3), 54-71.

Shaw, A. (2009). Putting the gay in games cultural production and GLBT content in video games. Games and Culture, 4(3), 228-253.

Shaw, A. (2012). Do you identify as a gamer? Gender, race, sexuality, and gamer identity. New Media and Society, 14(1), 28-44.

Shaw, A. (2015). Gaming at the edge: Sexuality and gender at the margins of gamer culture. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Game over-view: A brief overview of our recent papers on gaming addiction

Following my recent blogs where I outlined some of the papers that my colleagues and I have published on mindfulness and Internet addiction, here is a round-up of recent papers that my colleagues and I have published on gaming addiction.

Pontes, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Measuring DSM-5 Internet Gaming Disorder: Development and validation of a short psychometric scale. Computers in Human Behavior, 45, 137-143.

  • Despite the large growth on gaming behaviour research, little has been done to overcome the problem stemming from the heterogeneity of gaming addiction nomenclature and the use of non-standardised measurement tools. Following the recent inclusion of Internet Gaming Disorder [IGD] as a condition worthy of future studies in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [DSM-5], researchers have now an opportunity to reach consensus and unification in the field. The aim of this study was to develop a new nine-item short-form scale to assess Internet Gaming Disorder (IGDS-SF9) and to further explore its psychometric properties. A sample of 1060 gamers (85.1% males, mean age 27 years) recruited via online gaming forums participated. Exploratory factor analysis [EFA], confirmatory factor analysis [CFA], analyses of the criterion-related and concurrent validity, reliability, standard error of measurement [SEM], population cross-validity, and floor and ceiling effects were performed to assess the instrument’s psychometric properties. The results from the EFA revealed a single-factor structure for IGD that was also confirmed by the CFA. The nine items of the IGDS-SF9 are valid, reliable, and proved to be highly suitable for measuring IGD. It is envisaged that the IGDS-SF9 will help facilitate unified research in the field.

Benrazavi, S.R., Teimouri, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Utility of parental mediation model on youth’s problematic online gaming. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 13, 712-727.

  • The Parental Mediation Model (PMM) was initially designed to regulate children’s attitudes towards the traditional media. In the present era, because of prevalent online media there is a need for similar regulative measures. Spending long hours on social media and playing online games increase the risks of exposure to the negative outcomes of online gaming. This paper initially applied the PMM developed by European Kids Online to (i) test the reliability and validity of this model and (ii) identify the effectiveness of this model in controlling problematic online gaming (POG). The data were collected from 592 participants comprising 296 parents and 296 students of four foreign universities, aged 16 to 22 years in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). The study found that the modified model of the five-factor PMM (Technical mediation, Monitoring mediation, Restrictive mediation, Active Mediation of Internet Safety, and Active mediation of Internet Use) functions as a predictor for mitigating POG. The findings suggest the existence of a positive relation between ‘monitoring’ and ‘restrictive’ mediation strategies and exposure to POG while Active Mediation of Internet Safety and Active mediation of Internet use were insignificant predictors. Results showed a higher utility of ‘technical’ strategies by the parents led to less POG. The findings of this study do not support the literature suggesting active mediation is more effective for reducing youth’s risky behaviour. Instead, parents need to apply more technical mediations with their children and adolescents’ Internet use to minimize the negative effects of online gaming.

Hussain, Z., Williams, G. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). An exploratory study of the association between online gaming addiction and enjoyment motivations for playing massively multiplayer online role-playing games. Computers in Human Behavior, 50, 221–230.

  • Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) are a popular form of entertainment used by millions of gamers worldwide. Potential problems relating to MMORPG play have emerged, particularly in relation to being addicted to playing in such virtual environments. In the present study, factors relating to online gaming addiction and motivations for playing in MMORPGs were examined to establish whether they were associated with addiction. A sample comprised 1167 gamers who were surveyed about their gaming motivations. Latent Class Analysis revealed seven classes of motivations for playing MMORPGs, which comprised: (1) novelty; (2) highly social and discovery-orientated; (3) aggressive, anti-social and non-curious; (4) highly social, competitive; (5) low intensity enjoyment; (6) discovery-orientated; and (7) social classes. Five classes of gaming addiction-related experiences were extracted including: (1) high risk of addiction, (2) time-affected, (3) intermediate risk of addiction, (4) emotional control, and (5) low risk of addiction classes. Gender was a significant predictor of intermediate risk of addiction and emotional control class membership. Membership of the high risk of addiction class was significantly predicted by belonging to a highly social and competitive class, a novelty class, or an aggressive, anti-social, and non-curious class. Implications of these findings for assessment and treatment of MMORPG addiction are discussed.

Király, O., Griffiths, M.D. & Demetrovics Z. (2015). Internet gaming disorder and the DSM-5: Conceptualization, debates, and controversiesCurrent Addiction Reports, 2, 254–262.

  • Scientific interest in behavioral addictions (such as Internet gaming disorder [IGD]) has risen considerably over the last two decades. Moreover, the inclusion of IGD in Section 3 of DSM-5 will most likely stimulate such research even more. Although the inclusion of IGD appears to have been well received by most of the researchers and clinicians in the field, there are several controversies and concerns surrounding its inclusion. The present paper aims to discuss the most important of these issues: (i) the possible effects of accepting IGD as an addiction; (ii) the most important critiques regarding certain IGD criteria (i.e., preoccupation, tolerance, withdrawal, deception, and escape); and (iii) the controversies surrounding the name and content of IGD. In addition to these controversies, the paper also provides a brief overview of the recent findings in the assessment and prevalence of IGD, the etiology of the disorder, and the most important treatment methods.

Király, O., Urbán, R., Griffiths, M.D., Ágoston, C., Nagygyörgy, K., Kökönyei, G. & Demetrovics, Z. (2015). Psychiatric symptoms and problematic online gaming: The mediating effect of gaming motivation. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 17(4) :e88.

  • Background: The rapid expansion of online video gaming as a leisure time activity has led to the appearance of problematic online gaming (POG). According to the literature, POG is associated with different psychiatric symptoms (eg, depression, anxiety) and with specific gaming motives (ie, escape, achievement). Based on studies of alcohol use that suggest a mediator role of drinking motives between distal influences (e.g., trauma symptoms) and drinking problems, this study examined the assumption that there is an indirect link between psychiatric distress and POG via the mediation of gaming motives. Furthermore, it was also assumed that there was a moderator effect of gender and game type preference based on the important role gender plays in POG and the structural differences between different game types. Objective: This study had two aims. The first aim was to test the mediating role of online gaming motives between psychiatric symptoms and problematic use of online games. The second aim was to test the moderator effect of gender and game type preference in this mediation model. Methods: An online survey was conducted on a sample of online gamers (N=3186; age: mean 21.1, SD 5.9 years; male: 2859/3186, 89.74%). The Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI), the Motives for Online Gaming Questionnaire (MOGQ), and the Problematic Online Gaming Questionnaire (POGQ) were administered to assess general psychiatric distress, online gaming motives, and problematic online game use, respectively. Structural regression analyses within structural equation modeling were used to test the proposed mediation models and multigroup analyses were used to test gender and game type differences to determine possible moderating effects. Results: The mediation models fitted the data adequately. The Global Severity Index (GSI) of the BSI indicated that the level of psychiatric distress had a significant positive direct effect (standardized effect=.35, P<.001) and a significant indirect (mediating) effect on POG (standardized effect=.194, P<.001) via 2 gaming motives: escape (standardized effect=.139, P<.001) and competition (standardized effect=.046, P<.001). The comparison of the 2 main gamer types showed no significant differences in the model. However, when comparing male and female players it was found that women had (1) slightly higher escape scores (on a 5-point Likert scale: mean 2.28, SD 1.14) than men (mean 1.87, SD 0.97) and (2) a stronger association between the escape motive and problematic online gaming (standardized effect size=.64, P<.001) than men (standardized effect size=.20, P=.001). Conclusions: The results suggest that psychiatric distress is both directly and indirectly (via escape and competition motives) negatively associated with POG. Therefore, the exploration of psychiatric symptoms and gaming motives of POG can be helpful in the preparation of prevention and treatment programs.

Fuster, H., Carbonell, X., Pontes, H.M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Spanish validation of the Internet Gaming Disorder-20 (IGD-20) Test. Computers in Human Behavior, 56, 215-224.

  • In recent years, problematic and addictive gaming has been a phenomenon of growing concern worldwide. In light of the increasing awareness about this issue, the latest (fifth) edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) included Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD) as an area in need of more empirical research. The Internet Gaming Disorder Test (IGD-20 Test) was developed as a valid and reliable tool to assess IGD. The aim of the present study was to validate the Spanish version of the IGD-20 Test, and analyze the different profiles found among a sample of 1074 Spanish-speaking gamers. A confirmatory factor analysis showed the validity of the Spanish version of the IGD-20 Test and its six factor structure (i.e., salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict and relapse). The latent profile analysis (LPA) showed five different gamer classes. The ‘disordered gamers’ class comprised 2.6% of the participants. Based on this class, sensitivity and specificity analyses showed an adequate empirical cut-off point of 75 (out of 100). It is concluded that the Spanish version of the IGD-20 Test is valid and reliable and can be used in research into IGD among Spanish speaking populations.

Griffiths, M.D., Van Rooij, A., Kardefelt-Winther, D., Starcevic, V., Király, O…Demetrovics, Z. (2016). Working towards an international consensus on criteria for assessing Internet Gaming Disorder: A critical commentary on Petry et al (2014). Addiction, 111, 167-175.

  • This commentary paper critically discusses the recent debate paper by Petry et al. (2014) that argued there was now an international consensus for assessing Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD). Our collective opinions vary considerably regarding many different aspects of online gaming. However, we contend that the paper by Petry and colleagues does not provide a true and representative international community of researchers in this area. This paper critically discusses and provides commentary on (i) the representativeness of the international group that wrote the ‘consensus’ paper, and (ii) each of the IGD criteria. The paper also includes a brief discussion on initiatives that could be taken to move the field towards consensus. It is hoped that this paper will foster debate in the IGD field and lead to improved theory, better methodologically designed studies, and more robust empirical evidence as regards problematic gaming and its psychosocial consequences and impact.

Kim, N.R., Hwang, S.S-H., Choi, J-S., Kim, D-J., Demetrovics, Z., Király, O., Nagygyörgy, K., Griffiths, M.D., Hyun, S.Y., Youn, H.C. & Sam-Wook Choi, S-W. (2016). Characteristics and psychiatric symptoms of Internet Gaming Disorder among adults using self-reported DSM-5 criteria. Psychiatry Investigation, 13(1), 58-66.

  • Objective: The Section III of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) proposed nine diagnostic criteria and five cut-point criteria for Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD). We aimed to examine the efficacy of such criteria. Methods: Adults (n=3041, men: 1824, women: 1217) who engaged in internet gaming within last 6 months completed a self-report online survey using the suggested wordings of the criteria in DSM-5. Major characteristics, gaming behavior, and psychiatric symptoms of IGD were analyzed using ANOVA, chi-square, and correlation analyses. Results: The sociodemographic variables were not statistically significant between the healthy controls and the risk group. Among the participants, 419 (13.8%) were identified and labeled as the IGD risk group. The IGD risk group scored significantly higher on all motivation subscales (p<0.001). The IGD risk group showed significantly higher scores than healthy controls in all nine psychiatric symptom dimensions, i.e., somatization, obsession-compulsion, interpersonal sensitivity, depression, anxiety, hostility, phobic anxiety, paranoid ideation, and psychoticism (p<0.001). Conclusion: The IGD risk group showed differential psychopathological manifestations according to DSM-5 IGD diagnostic criteria. Further studies are needed to evaluate the reliability and validity of the specific criteria, especially for developing screening instruments.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Beranuy, M., Carbonell, X., & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). A qualitative analysis of online gaming addicts in treatment. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 11, 149-161.

Billieux, J., Deleuze, J., Griffiths, M.D., & Kuss, D.J. (2015). Internet addiction: The case of massively multiplayer online role playing games. In N. El-Guebaly, M. Galanter, & G. Carra (Eds.), The Textbook of Addiction Treatment: International Perspectives (pp.1516-1525). New York: Springer.

Griffiths, M.D., King, D.L. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). DSM-5 Internet Gaming Disorder needs a unified approach to assessment. Neuropsychiatry, 4(1), 1-4.

Griffiths, M.D. & Pontes, H.M. (2014). Internet addiction disorder and internet gaming disorder are not the same. Journal of Addiction Research and Therapy, 5: e124. doi:10.4172/2155-6105.1000e124.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H., Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Trajectories of problem video gaming among adult regular gamers: An 18-month longitudinal study. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 16, 72-76.

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

Király, O., Griffiths, M.D., Urbán, R., Farkas, J., Kökönyei, G. Elekes, Z., Domokos Tamás, D. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). Problematic internet use and problematic online gaming are not the same: Findings from a large nationally representative adolescent sample. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 17, 749-754.

Lopez-Fernandez, O., Honrubia-Serrano, M.L., Baguley, T. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Pathological video game playing in Spanish and British adolescents: Towards the Internet Gaming Disorder symptomatology. Computers in Human Behavior, 41, 304–312.

Pontes, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). The assessment of internet gaming disorder in clinical research. Clinical Research and Regulatory Affairs, 31(2-4), 35-48.

Pontes, H., Király, O. Demetrovics, Z. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). The conceptualisation and measurement of DSM-5 Internet Gaming Disorder: The development of the IGD-20 Test. PLoS ONE, 9(10): e110137. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0110137.

Spekman, M.L.C., Konijn, E.A, Roelofsma, P.H.M.P. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Gaming addiction, definition, and measurement: A large-scale empirical study, Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 2150-2155.

A night on the tiles: A brief look at addiction to ‘Scrabble’

In previous blogs I have covered some arguably frivolous (and alleged) addictions including addictions to cryptic crosswords and Sudoku. Today’s blog looks at an equally frivolous topic in the same vein – Scrabble addiction. I have to be honest and say that I love playing Scrabble and have been playing a lot against the computer over the last few weeks (and is one of the reasons I decided to write an article on the topic). According to a 2004 article ‘Scrabble addicts’ in The Independent by John Walsh, there are numerous celebrity Scrabble lovers including Robbie Williams, Kylie Minogue, Nigella Lawson, Christina Aguilera, Sting, Avril Lavigne and Alison Steadman. He also  asserted that the secret of Scrabble’s success is threefold.

“First, it’s a game of skill (like chess) that depends on the luck of the tiles you get (like cards). Second, it deploys a commodity common to every human being, namely words. Third, anyone can play it”.

Back in 2000, I published a paper on the psychology of games in Psychology Review and what makes a good game. These are all applicable to Scrabble. I noted in that article that:

  • All good games are relatively easy to play but can take a lifetime to become truly adept. In short, there will always room for improvement.
  • For games of any complexity there must be a bibliography that people can reference and consult. Without books and magazines to instruct and provide information there will be no development and the activity will die.
  • There needs to be competitions and tournaments. Without somewhere to play (and likeminded people to play with) there will be little development within the field over long periods of time.
  • Finally – and very much a sign of the times – no leisure activity can succeed today without corporate sponsorship of some kind.

But is there any evidence to suggest Scrabble can be addictive? Jan Kern published a book in 2009 called Eyes on Line: Eyes on Life – A Journey Out of Online Addictions. She noted the case of Tom who started out his story by saying: “Hi, my name is Tom, and I’m an addict. I don’t have a problem with the bottle or with any kind of pharmaceutical product, legal or illegal. No, my problem is with games. I’m addicted to them…And now the Internet has made this potential to get hooked all too easy. My particular poison these days is online Scrabble”. I then came across these examples:

  • Extract 1: “[I] have struggled with Scrabble addiction. When I play Scrabble on the Internet, I lose all track of time. I promise myself I’ll just play one game, and the next thing I know, the sun is coming up and my eyes are a shade of crimson. I’m just glad to know that I’m not the only one” (Raphael Pope-Sussman, New York Times, 2007).
  • Extract 2: “I read ‘Addicted to L-U-V’ while I was in the midst of a Scrabble game…Whenever I encounter a new word, I calculate the number of letters, roots, prefixes and suffixes. I’ve got it bad. My Scrabble buddies both live out of state…When we are together, we have cut-throat marathon games…When we’re apart, we practice our addiction online” (Cheryl Beatty, New York Times, 2007).
  • Extract 3: “Phew! I am not the only one! Scrabble with my friends and daughter was my addiction for years. These days I play it on my computer when I take a break from work…O.K., that’s enough writing; time to get back to another game of Scrabble” (Beth Rosen, New York Times, 2007).

These extracts were all published in response to American journalist and film director Nora Ephron’s 2007 article ‘Addicted to L-U-V’ in the New York Times about her addiction to the word game Scrabble. In her article, Ephron admitted that:

“I stumbled onto something called Scrabble Blitz. It was a four-minute version of Scrabble solitaire, on a Web site called Games.com, and I began playing it without a clue that within 24 hours – I am not exaggerating – it would fry my brain…I began having Scrabble dreams in which people turned into letter tiles that danced madly about. I tuned out on conversations and instead thought about how many letters there were in the name of the person I wasn’t listening to. I fell asleep memorizing the two- and three-letter words that distinguish those of us who are hooked on Scrabble from those of you who aren’t…My brain turned to cheese. I could feel it happening. It was clear that I was becoming more and more scattered, more distracted, more unfocused…I instantly became an expert on how the Internet could alter your brain in a permanent way”.

Ephron went on to report comments from other people in the online Scrabble games (“I’m an addict, lol”, “I can’t stop playing this, ha ha”). Ephron concluded she was no different from the other players. She then went onto say:

“The game of Scrabble Blitz eventually became too much for the Web site. Lag was a huge problem. From time to time, the Scrabble Blitz area would shut down for days, and when it returned, so did all the addicts, full of comments about how they had barely withstood life without the game. I began to get carpal tunnel syndrome from playing. I’m not kidding. I realized I was going to have to kick the habit…I was saved by what’s known in the insurance business as an act of God: Games.com shut down Scrabble Blitz. And that was that. It was gone”.

Obviously I’m sceptical about whether there are genuine cases of addiction to Scrabble (particularly as there is nothing in the psychological literature whatsoever). There have also been other lengthy first-person journalistic accounts of Scrabble addiction such as the 2011 article by James Brown in the Sabotage Times (who also did some interesting background research for his article). According to Brown, the recent upsurge in Scrabble began in 2007 when Indian brothers Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla developed a Scrabble application for Facebook (‘Scrabulous’). It quickly became the most popular game on Facebook (but was then removed due to a legal dispute with the original developers of Scrabble – Hasbro and Mattel. The game later returned as Lexulous). Brown then confessed:

Hello, my name’s James and I am a Scrabble addict. I have been playing it all day everyday from last Christmas until my summer holiday when two weeks without a computer allowed me to crack the habit. I am not alone, there are over a hundred thousand Scrabble players on Facebook. We play each other at any time of day or night because we are situated all over the world and timezones are helpful like that. We decide how long we will allow for each move to take, how many people can play, and what standard we play at…On an hourly basis day after day I played people in Australia, Britain, South Africa, India, the West Indies and pretty much anywhere else where the Scrabble application could work. Eventually I spent more time talking and playing with these new Scrabble partners than I did the people I lived with. It was madness. A genuine obsession, I would go as far as to say addiction. I was late to pick my son up from school, late to sports matches I was playing in, I ignored writing work I had to do, I took the computer to bed with me and played last thing at night until my eyes hurt and then started again as soon as I woke up… For me it eventually became too much. One day I looked at the 18 consecutive games I had going on at once, many of them with just two minutes at a time to play my word, and realised what that would look like if I actually had 18 people with 18 boards in the room with me. This moment of clarity gave me some perspective on how it had consumed my life”.

I have to admit that this case account is quite compelling and does at least suggest Scrabble could be potentially addictive. Finally, as a Professor of Gambling Studies I was also interested in Brown’s analogy between Scrabble and gambling as he noted:

“Not knowing what letters would appear next had that random appeal that watching a horse race has.  The excitement at using all seven letters and scoring a bingo, or taking a game to the very last tile to reach a conclusion was immense, there was always just one more game, one more opponent, maybe the same one you’d already played five times that day and you wanted to take another victory from or avenge an earlier defeat. The international 24 hour pull of the game is relentless, for some it over-comes loneliness for others it fuels addictive personalities”.

Playing with what you get given is almost an outlook on life itself. However, unlike life, I seriously doubt whether excessive and/or addictive playing of Scrabble will ever become the topic of scientific study.

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

Further reading

Brown, J. (2011). Scrabble addict. Sabotage Times, May 16. Located at: http://sabotagetimes.com/life/scrabble-addict/

Ephron, N. (2007). Addicted to L-U-V. New York Times, May 13. Located at: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/13/opinion/13ephron.html

Griffiths, M.D. (2000). The psychology of games. Psychology Review, 7(2), 24-26.

Hayward, A. (2014). Can New Words With Friends reignite your competitive pseudo-Scrabble addiction? MacWorld, October 14. Located at: http://www.macworld.com/article/2825932/can-new-words-with-friends-reignite-your-competitive-pseudo-scrabble-addiction.html

Kern, J. (2009). Eyes on Line: Eyes on Life – A Journey Out of Online Addictions. Accessible Publishing Systems PTY, Ltd.

Walsh, J. (2004). Scrabble addicts. The Independent, October 9. Located at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/scrabble-addicts-535160.html

Stock tales: Is financial trading a form of gambling?

One of the questions I am most asked by my students and the media alike is whether trading on the stock market is a genuine form of gambling. That might sound a simple question, but it all comes down to what definition of gambling you are using. My own view on gambling is that it boils down to the staking of money (or something of financial value) on a future event. When I first started my research into gambling back in the mid-1980s, there were four fundamental types of gambling:

  • Gaming – Staking of money during a game (e.g. slot machines, roulette, blackjack, etc.)
  • Betting – Staking money on a future event, typically sports events (e.g. horse race betting, greyhound betting, football betting, etc.)
  • Lotteries – The distribution of money by lot (e.g. National Lottery)
  • Speculation – Staking money on stock markets (e.g., investment in shares, day trading, etc.)

In a previous blog I briefly examined whether stock market speculation was a legitimate form of gambling. However, back in the 1980s, psychologists were only interested in studying the first three of these activities (i.e., gaming, betting and lotteries). Although a few academics accepted ‘speculation’ as a true form of gambling, the majority of researchers in the gambling studies field did not (including me). The prevailing view at the time was that ‘speculation’ was viewed as involving a fair amount of skill and/or relied on ‘insider information’ and therefore was not a legitimate form of gambling compared to other forms of gambling. Although there were clearly accepted forms of gambling that had skilful elements (e.g., poker, blackjack), academic psychologists still rejected speculation as a form of gambling worth investigating.

However, this all changed after the introduction of spread betting. I argued in a number of articles at the end of the 1990s that spread betting had taken the mechanics of stock market trading and applied it to sporting events. For me, this was a game changer in terms of studying the psychology of gambling. No longer could we say that speculation shouldn’t be studied because spread betting was clearly a form of speculation and it was something that appealed to a new type of gambler because it involved sporting events that many people think they know a lot about.

There was also one other key factor in changing psychologist’s perceptions of speculation as gambling – the ‘Nick Leeson effect’. In 1995, Leeson single-handedly brought down the UK’s oldest investment bank (Barings). Leeson was a derivatives broker whose fraudulent gambling caused the spectacular collapse of one of the UK’s most established financial institutions. From the early 1990s, Leeson made countless speculative (and unauthorised) gambles on the stock market that at first made large profits for his employers. However, as with most gamblers, his ‘beginner’s luck’ soon ran out and he started to lose huge amounts of money. Leeson’s losses eventually reached £827 million. Leeson’s psychology and behaviour was identical to that of a problem gambler (except he was gambling with much larger amounts of money and with someone else’s money).

There was perhaps another reason why speculation was seen as psychologically different from gaming, betting and lotteries. Unlike these other forms of gambling, speculation is a type of gambling where the gambler does not know how much they are going to win or lose on the gamble. If I put £1000 on a horse to win the Grand National or on black to come up on a roulette wheel, I know that losing will cost me £1000. On most stock market trades or spread bets, no-one knows beforehand what the losses could be. However, there are financial trades that could perhaps be argued to be more like betting than speculation. For instance, binary options look as though they are going to grow in popularity over the next year or two as the gambling payoff is more traditional than usual financial trading.

In binary option betting, a cash-or-nothing binary option will pay a fixed amount of money if the option traded on expires in-the-money (i.e., it is a simple ‘win-or-lose’ bet as the potential return it offers is certain and known before the purchase is made). One of the attractions of binary options is that they can be bought on virtually any financial product and can be bought in both up and down directions of trade. The simplicity is likely to attract more people especially if they feel they know something about the product being traded upon. This is the same reason why spread betting took off in such a big way because people feel they know about the market (e.g., football) that they are betting on, even if there is a huge element of chance (which there invariably is). My guess is that most people who work in the financial markets don’t see binary options as an investment opportunity – they see it for what it really is – a pure gamble.

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

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (1991). ‘Gambling and Speculation: A Theory, History, and a Future of some Human Decisions’ by R. Brenner and G.A. Brenner. Journal of Economic Psychology, 12, 197-201.

Griffiths, M.D. (1998). Gambling into the Millenium: Issues of concern and potential concern. GamCare News, 3, 4.

Griffiths, M.D. (2000). Day trading: Another possible gambling addiction? GamCare News, 8, 13-14.

Griffiths, M.D. (2006). An overview of pathological gambling. In T. Plante (Ed.), Mental Disorders of the New Millennium. Vol. I: Behavioral Issues. pp. 73-98. New York: Greenwood.

Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Gambling Addiction and its Treatment Within the NHS. London: British Medical Association (ISBN 1-905545-11-8).

Griffiths, M.D. & Auer, M. (2013). The irrelevancy of game-type in the acquisition, development and maintenance of problem gambling. Frontiers in Psychology, 3, 621. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00621.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Financial trading as a form of gambling. i-Gaming Business Affiliate, April/May, 40.