Study: Video games can be addicting

Originally published in The Daily Iowan 4/29/2009

UI freshman Ryan Flaherty said he used to spend five to six hours each evening playing World of Warcraft — but he’s since stopped.
“It took over too much of my life, he said. “In order to do well in the game, you have to play as much as I did.”

Flaherty’s old habits are some of the many qualities officials find in video-game addicts — or pathological gamers, as experts call them.
Iowa State University psychology Assistant Professor Douglas Gentile recently led a study showing 1 in every 10 youths — those between 8- and 18-years-old — are addicted to video games.

These pathological gamers are said to play video games 24 hours a week — twice as much as those who aren’t addicted.
But Gentile said frequent game playing isn’t all that constitutes an addiction.

Researchers also asked subjects — roughly 1,000 of them through a survey — about the amount of time they think about playing games, if they ever felt restless when they aren’t playing a game, and if their chores or classwork has ever been affected by the time they spent playing games.

“It is very similar to pathological gambling, but we altered the questions for children,” Gentile said.

Subjects were found to be pathological gamers if they answered yes to six of the 11 questions.Gentile found pathological gaming at a young age can lead to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and aggressive behavior.

For college students, the reported time spent playing games is much lower. According to UI graduate student Robin Johnson — who taught a digital games class last semester — college males play an average of 11 hours a week, and women play an average of four hours in a given week.
Robert Kesten, the executive director of the Center for Screen Time Awareness, said adults spend an average of nine hours of recreational screen time a day, which greatly exceeds the recommended two hours. He said the number could be even higher with the advent of personal screens such as iPods and cell phones.

Excessive screen time can also lead to obesity and lower grades, according to Gentile’s study.

However, Kesten admits technology and screen time have become an “essential part of our lives,” but that doesn’t mean people still don’t have responsibility to be aware of it.

“If we continue allowing these instruments to control us, we can be sure to add great stress and witness a continued increase in mental and physical illness,” Kesten said.

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