It is 4:00 A.M. You sit in the basement of your house. Your thighs stick to a worn leather chair. Your armpits sweat, your eyeballs glue to the screen in front of you. The fingers of your left hand shackle a joystick. The fingers of your right hand punch the control keys. Today’s looming economics exam sinks to the depths of your subconscious.
You must kill. You lift your gaze and peer through the rubble. A tank lies just metres away. You push through the rubble and forge towards the tank.
A sniper strikes you from behind. Game over. You hit the respawn button.
You’re addicted to video games.
In 2017, Benjamin Pearcy and colleagues from the School of Psychology and Speech Pathology in Perth, Australia, collected self-report data from obsessive online gamers and found possible links between Internet Gaming Addiction and other mental disorders.
But is Internet Gaming Disorder real?
Internet Gaming Disorder emerged as a mental disorder in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Psychologists and psychiatrists around the world rely on the DSM as their main diagnostic tool. The DSM claims that the mutation from an activity to a disorder occurs when a person’s behaviour harms their everyday functioning.
Internet Gaming Disorder harms lives: it thwarts a person’s social, occupational, and psychological functioning. Gamers obsess over playing and suffer withdrawal when they stop.
Pearcy and his colleagues surveyed 404 gamers of an online gaming community. The sample included 285 adults and 119 students. Men comprised 70% of participants.
Pearcy’s team measured the gaming frequency of each participant. The team also calculated psychological stress, attention deficit and hyperactivity, anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive behaviours of each participant. All measures resulted from self-report.
Results showed a high comorbidity, or co-occurrence, of other mental disorders to Internet Gaming Disorder.
Of the 404 participants in the study, twenty-two adults and twelve students self-reported as addicted online gamers. The highest comorbidity with other mental disorders occurred among the addicted gamer sample.
Addicted gamers, in particular the student sample, most frequently admitted to symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a childhood disorder, marked by impulsive behaviour and an inability to concentrate. ADHD is more common in males and symptoms may continue into adulthood.
But what is the reason for this comorbidity?
A team of researchers from the Kaohsiung Medical University in Taiwan investigated possible links between Internet Gaming Disorder, ADHD, and impulsivity. Similar to Pearcy and colleagues, the researchers found a high correlation between Internet Gaming Disorder and ADHD. The Kaohsiung analysts tested participants for impulsivity through a self-report questionnaire and recorded higher scores in impulsivity among their addicted gamer sample, discovering that impulsivity increases the risk of Internet Gaming disorder. Impulsivity also increases vulnerability to addictions, including gaming addictions, and may also augment aggressive behaviour. Addicted gamers proved most likely to exhibit ADHD, aggression, and higher impulsivity scores.
Olga, an anonymous online forum for addicted gamers, provides some insight into Online Gaming Addiction and comorbid ADHD. SheeshMode, a self-disclosed gaming addict from Olga, admits, “I’m a game addict and have significant ADHD issues. It’s just really difficult for me to focus on things that don’t immediately grab my attention. Gaming did [engage me] for a long time, but it turned into a problem when I couldn’t control how long I stayed on, or how long I needed to play to feel satisfied.”
The Kaohsiung researchers conclude that Internet gaming may provide a higher sense of achievement and offer increased social support for individuals with ADHD, because gaming may offer compensation for problems in daily life associated with increased aggression and impulsivity caused by the decreased ability to concentrate on every day tasks.
Bill F, a self-disclosed gaming addict, comments on Olga: “Gaming provided constant stimulus for me, and in a way provided me with the same surge in energy that I needed to focus. However, nothing could match the trigger-happy (literally) environment of the fire-person-shooter games I played, so I wanted to do nothing else. Everything else was boring and tiring except for games.”
A supportive network and therapy aimed at changing behaviors to curb impulsivity currently offers the best route for recovery from Internet Gaming Disorder.
Pearcy, B.T.D., McEvoy, P.M., & Roberts, L.D. (2017). Internet gaming disorder explains unique variance in psychosocial distress and disability after controlling for comorbid depression, OCD, ADHD, and anxiety. Cyberpsychology. 20(2), 126-132. https://doi-org.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/10.1089/cyber.2016.0304
Shirley, M. C., & Sirocco, K. Y. (2014). Introduction to special section: ADHD, impulsivity, and alcohol abuse. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 22(2), 97-99. doi:http://dx.doi.org.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/10.1037/a0036124
Lemmens, J. S., Valkenburg, P. M., & Gentile, D. A. (2015). The Internet gaming disorder scale. Psychological Assessment, 27(2), 567-582. doi:http://dx.doi.org.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/10.1037/pas0000062
Bill, F. & SheeshMode. (2018). Online Gamers Anonymous. www.olga.org/forum.
Yen, J.Y., Lui, T.L., Wang, P.W., Chen, C.S., Yen, C.f., Ko, C.h. (2017) Association between internet gaming disorder and adult attention deficit disorder and their correlates: impulsivity and hostility. Addictive Behaviours, 64. 308-313. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2016.04.024