one in ten compute gamers are addicted

Nearly one in 10 American children who play computer games are pathologically addicted, according to new research.

Some young gamers show at least six symptoms of gambling addiction, such as lying to family and friends about how much they play games, using the games to escape their problems and becoming restless or irritable when they stop playing. They may also skip homework to play games or spend too much time playing and do poorly in school, the study shows.

Douglas Gentile, director of the National Institute on Media and the Family at Iowa State University, where the study was carried out, said in his report: "The present study was designed to demonstrate whether pathological gaming is an issue that merits further attention. With almost one out of 10 youth gamers demonstrating real-world problems because of their gaming, we can conclude that it does."

The findings are based on a national sample of 1,178 boys and girls aged 8 to 18. Almost 90 per cent of the children who completed the online questionnaire said that they played computer games.

Boys spent an average 16.4 hours a week playing games and girls 9.2 hours. "Addicted" gamers played 24 hours a week, twice as much as casual gamers.

Of the gamers, 8.5 per cent exhibited "pathological patterns of play" gauged by the presence of at least six out of 11 clinical symptoms as defined by the American Psychiatric Association that indicate damage to family, social, school, or psychological functioning. The most common symptom was children skipping household chores to play games.

A quarter of gamers said that they played to escape problems, and nearly as many admitted to playing when they were supposed to be devoting time to homework. A fifth of gamers said that they had botched schoolwork or done poorly in exams because they had spent time playing instead of focusing on their education.

The report found that poor school performance and a pathological addition to video games were strongly linked, but Dr Gentile warned that the research had not investigated which came first.

"It is certainly possible that pathological gaming causes poor school performance, and so forth, but it is equally likely that children who have trouble at school seek to play games to experience feelings of mastery, or that attention problems cause both poor school performance and an attraction to games," he wrote in the findings, which will be published in the journal Psychological Science.

"While the medical community currently does not recognise video game addiction as a mental disorder, hopefully this study will be one of many that allow us to have an educated conversation on the positive and negative effects of video games," he said.

Only about half the homes represented in the survey had rules about computer games. Forty-four per cent of respondents said that they were subject to rules about when they were allowed to play, 46 per cent reported having rules about how long they were allowed to play, and 56 per cent said they had rules about the kind of games they were allowed to play.

A large percentage of the children – 22 per cent of 8 to 11-year-olds, 41 per cent of 12 to 14-year-olds, and 56 cent of 15 to 18-year-olds – owned violent, adult-rated games. Boys were more than twice as likely as girls to have obtained adult-rated games; 7 per cent of boys admitted that they had bought such a game with their own money without their parents’ knowledge.

Dr David Walsh, the president of the National Institute on Media and the Family, which works to minimise the harmful effects of media on the health and development of children and families, said that the findings were a wake-up call for families.

"This study gives everyone a better idea of the scope of the problem," he said. "While video games can be fun and entertaining, some kids are getting into trouble. I continue to hear from families who are concerned about their child's gaming habits. Not only do we need to focus on identifying the problem, but we need to find ways to help families prevent and treat it."