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Obsessive gamers don’t have a clinical disorder according to new study

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“Gaming Disorder” is a term that a lot of people have heard over these last few months. And course, anytime someone says anything that could be construed as negative towards gamers, there’s that loud subset who react reflexively rather than listen and understand what is actually being said. This latest bit of distraught gamer fury came about after some publications in the psychology world lent credence to the idea that obsessive gaming habits were a bad sign, and could lead to deeper problems. But new research from researchers at Oxford University, in partnership with Cardiff University, and published today in Clinical Psychological Science, has found little evidence to suggest an unhealthy trend is developing. That trend is often referred to as “gaming addiction,” and could warrant medical intervention if it’s serious, but this new research casts some doubt over the seriousness of the issue.

Data collected from 1,000 adolescents and their caregivers attempted to discern whether the obsessive habits of same video game players warrants further intervention, and though the findings of the study found plenty of gaming going on, a lot less of the social and psychological ills of addictive behavior were reported. Most of the people surveyed reported playing games daily. Though less than half of daily online gamers reported symptoms of obsessive gaming, and with an average of three hours a day devoted to games, that’s a lot of time spent in front of the screen. The key factor in all this is that the study found little credible evidence to suggest that this gaming habit resulted in other problems in life.

So that’s great, but there is one thing you have to keep in mind. It’s important to highlight a potential pitfall here with trusting a single source when it comes to these kinds of things.

Academia, and especially the medical community, are always in flux. The sheer volume of new data and study produced every week means that there’s always constant debate over who has the correct position on a given issue. The same is true for psychology, especially with concern to clinical disorders. Clinical disorders are formally recognized patterns of behavior that often have treatments developed for them to help the people affected deal with their underlying issues. The classification of a certain behavior as a clinical disorder is important, as it helps academics and medical professionals develop a baseline to work from in future study and development of treatments.

But by determining that gaming addiction is not serious enough to warrant such an approach, the study suggests that the issue warrants further examination, but that it isn’t a root cause of other issues. That’s not to say it isn’t concerning though, as extremely addictive behaviors, regardless of the medium of the addiction, can be disastrous.

Dr. Netta Weinstein, Senior Lecturer, School of Psychology, University of Cardiff and co-author of the report, said:

We urge healthcare professionals to look more closely at the underlying factors such as psychological satisfactions and everyday frustrations to understand why a minority of players feel like they must engage in gaming in an obsessive way.

Professor Andrew Przybylski, Director of Research at the Oxford Internet Institute and co-author of the study, said:

The World Health Organisation and the American Psychiatric Association have called on researchers to investigate the clinical relevance of dysregulated video-gaming among adolescents, as previous studies have failed to examine the wider context of what is going on in these young peoples’ lives. This is something we seek to address with our new study. For the first time we apply motivational theory and open science principles to investigate if psychological need satisfactions and frustrations in adolescents’ daily lives are linked to dysregulated—or obsessive—gaming engagement.

Our findings provided no evidence suggesting an unhealthy relationship with gaming accounts for substantial emotional, peer and behavioral problems. Instead, variations in gaming experience are much more likely to be linked to whether adolescents’ basic psychological needs for competence, autonomy, and social belonging are being met and if they are already experiencing wider functioning issues. In light of our findings we do not believe sufficient evidence exists to warrant thinking about gaming as a clinical disorder in its own right.

Of course, the results of addictive behavior have already been seen in the games industry. The crap-Kraken that is loot boxes has already generated plenty of ruinous nonsense in some lives. So while this form of addiction is monetized, other forms might be ignored to the detriment of everyone.

The conclusion that one should draw from this is simple, more study is always needed. The understanding of the social and psychological impacts of video games is still relatively young. And as more and more people inject personality, creativity and politics into the industry over time, those effects are going to shift and have an impact. Question is, will it be positive or negative, and will the industry be ready to face it?

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