Addictive Gaming Behaviours–implications for EdTech?

July 2, 2009

Just finished reading quite an interesting study on addictive behaviour in video gamers 8-18 years old  (U.S.), “Pathological Video-Game Use Among Youth Ages 8 to 18: A National Study”(Douglas Gentile, ‘‘Pathological Video-Game Use Among Youth
Ages 8 to 18: A National Study,’’ Psychological Science, Volume
20, Number 5, pp. 594–602.).

Findings & Some Gender Differences

The study is the first one of its kind on a national rather than regional scope. The study found that in a national sample of American youth aged 8-18, 88% played video games at least “occasionally”. Of that group, about 8% exhibited pathological gaming behaviour (addictive behaviour) as measured on scales similar to those used to measure addictive gambling behaviour.

On average, the study found that youth who gamed did so 3-4 times per week for a total of an average of 13.2 hours per week. It found a significant difference in gender where boys’ average use was 16.4 hours/week while girls’ use was 9.2 hours/week.  I wonder if the numbers would be flipped for use of social networking software, i.e. that girls would spend a significantly greater amount of time than boys on social sites. It seems there are indications that this might be so at least from the PEW research,”Social Networking Websites and Teens: An Overview” (

Older girls ages 15-17 are more likely to have used social networking sites and created online profiles; 70% of older girls have used an online social network compared with 54% of older boys, and 70% of older girls have created an online profile, while only 57% of older boys have done so.

Gentile’s study found additional gender differences: boys were 2x more likely to own mature rated games, and more girls than boys “reported trying to reduce their video-game play”.

The study also found that 20% of pathological gamers reported that gaming interfered with schoolwork or tests, 23% skipped homework to play games, and 25% reported using games to “escape problems”.  The ownership of “mature” games was 22% for 8-11, 41% for 12-14 & 56% of 15-18 year olds. Remember I said they found that boys were two times more likely to own “mature” rated games–and the study cites other findings that playing these types of games has been tied to violent behaviours.

The study found that “frequency of video-game play appeared to stay relatively steady from 8-13, and to decrease thereafter” but that “although adolescents play…less frequently as they grow older, they appear to increase their playing time per session.”

ADD, ADHD & Pathological Gaming

The study also found comorbidity–or a co-presence of attention issues with pathological gaming. ADD & ADHD were mentioned specifically. However, the study was unable to discover whether the attention issues were distinct from the pathological gaming, whether they contributed to pathological gaming or whether pathological gaming contributed to attention issues. Clearly this merits further investigation.

And where are the parents in all this?

Well according to the findings, of all the gaming homes, only 50% of them had any rules about video-game use. Of that 50%, only 40% (20% overall) had rules about how much time youth could play, and 56% (28% overall) had rules regarding the gaming content.

Implications for Educational Gaming?

So, if we look at the statistics–approximatley 6.8% of youth aged 8-18 could be susceptible to addictive gaming behaviours– or 8% of the 86% of gamers. If that is so, does that mean that use of educational gaming could contribute to addictive behaviours in academically at-risk youth? Would this affect the development of educational gaming due to potential liability issues? Does this raise moral issues about the use of educational gaming in a general school population?

I’m not sure, but it definitely raises these considerations for me. Your thoughts?