A new study from Iowa State professor Dr. Douglas Gentile concludes that there are "hints of causality" between excessive gaming and mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and social problems. You may recall that the ESA issued a statement on Friday calling the study deeply flawed.
The study, "Pathological video game use among youth 8 to 18: A national study," was conducted by Gentile, who is also the director of research for the National Institute on Media and the Family.
Gentile and his group of researchers surveyed 3,034 Singapore schoolchildren about their gaming habits, looking for children who were "pathological gamers." The groups were broken up into several groups: children who were pathological gamers throughout the study, children who became pathological or stopped being pathological during the study, and children who showed no signs of affect.
The survey questions were crafted using existing questions used to find pathological gambling, because gambling is the only medically recognized behavioral addiction.
Participants were asked 10 questions to determine if areas of their lives were being affected by excessive gaming. Did they skip doing homework? Did they fail at cutting back on gaming? Did they play games to escape problems or bad feelings? Has they ever stolen money so they could play games? Respondents had the option of answering "yes," "no," or "sometimes." "Sometimes" answers would count as half of a "yes." If a child has five or more "yes" answers, Gentile concluded that they were considered pathological gamers. The participants were followed over a two year period to gauge if there were any positive or negative changes in their gaming behavior.
"When you play the games, your biochemistry does change," Gentile said, "and it changes in many of the same ways that it does if you take cocaine. Your brain does release dopamine. That adrenaline rush you feel from playing violent games is really adrenaline. That’s epinephrine coursing through your veins. You also get other stress hormones—glocucorticoids and catecholamines like cortisol and testosterone. And over time, you get desensitized. You get a tolerance for them, and so you need more new games to get that excitement back again. And that looks an awful lot like a substance addiction."
Gentile also tried to tackle the ESA’s preemptive strike on his research:
"They don’t really provide any evidence in their statement of anything being seriously flawed," Gentile said. "That doesn’t mean all studies don’t have limitations; they certainly do. But just having limitations doesn’t necessarily invalidate any of the results from it, either."
If there is one positive take-away from this study, it’s that Gentile isn’t necessarily blaming games, he’s blaming impulse control disorders:
"I tend to believe–and there are people who disagree with me–is what we’re looking at here is an impulse control disorder," Gentile said. "You know you should do your homework, but you just can’t stop playing. You know you have to go to bed, but you have to get just one more level. What needs to be changed is not the game. What needs to change is players need to learn to put it back into balance."
You can read the 12-page study results here (PDF) and judge for yourselves.