Debate over video games has long focused on depictions of violence, but what hasn't been as widely discussed is game addiction among a minority of the game playing population.
The key word here is minority, something that UK-based newspaper The Sun missed in a recent investigative story.
The publication claims that Britain is "in the grip of a gaming addiction which poses as big a health risk as alcohol and drug abuse," using data from one clinic in the UK that says it has received around 5,000 video game addiction related calls in a year. The investigative piece also links Call of Duty to three suicides, and makes note of the increased dopamine levels found in users while playing games.
Quoted in the story is Dr. Mark Griffiths, a professor of gambling studies at Nottingham Trent University, who says what The Sun reported isn't quite right. Along with his quote, Griffiths provided a 10-step questionnaire for readers to determine if they might be suffering from video game addiction.
Speaking with Eurogamer, Griffiths said he wasn't aware of what The Sun had printed.
"There is no evidence the country is in 'the grip of addiction,'" says Griffiths. "Yes, we have various studies showing a small minority have problematic gaming. But problematic gaming doesn't necessarily mean gaming addiction. They're two very separate things. Yet the media seem to put them as the same." He goes on to say that The Sun uses a different definition of addiction than he does, and by his standards gaming addicts are few and far between.
"Most kids can afford to play three hours a day without it impacting on their education, their physical education and their social networks," Griffiths says. "Yes, I believe video game addiction exists, and if it is a genuine addiction it may well be as addictive as other more traditional things in terms of signs, symptoms and components. But the good news is it is a very tiny minority who are genuinely addicted to video games."
Griffiths would go on to tell that the advantages of gaming far outweigh the disadvantages. In a previous story [subscription required] about gaming research, Griffiths was quoted saying as much.
"There is no evidence that video games, played in moderation, have any negative effect whatsoever," Griffiths said last year. "The only negatives are reported from excessive hardcore play. There is a small minority of players who do see a negative effect, but the positives far outweigh the negatives."
The said publication is correct about high dopamine levels coming from playing games. However, a recently published study in the peer-reviewed journal Neurology Now says excessive game playing, especially among younger players, can have negative side effects. The rush of dopamine from playing games is so great that the study says it can even shut down certain areas of the brain, such as the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that serves as a control center and helps weigh risks and rewards. In young players, whose prefrontal cortexes are not fully developed, the results can be kids who play for long periods of time and ignore basic needs like food, sleep and hygiene, in extreme cases resulting in the death of players who ignore them for too long.
As always, the answer lies in moderation, with the study encouraging parents to know how much time their child is spending playing and doing other activities. The effects of gaming, both positive and negative, can vary greatly from person to person.
"Asking what are the effects of video games is like asking what are the effects of eating food," says Tom Hummer, Ph.D. and assistant professor of psychiatry at Indiana University, in the study. "Different games do different things. They can have benefits or detriments depending on what you're looking at."