Researchers from Cardiff, Derby and Nottingham Trent universities have published a new study, warning videogame makers that they need to do more to prevent players becoming addicted.
Published in the Addiction Research and Theory Journal, the study claims that approximately seven to eleven per cent of gamers can be considered to have “pathological” addictions, citing documented gaming sessions lasting 40-90 hours as evidence.
The universities also analysed the architecture of different game types, paying special attention to the genre of Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) which offer players a structure encouraging long gaming sessions through a series of ever-escalating goals and rewards.
“As a first step online game developers and publishers need to look into the structural features of the game design,” says Dr Zaheer Hussain, a cyber-psychologist from the University of Derby. “For example the character development, rapid absorption rate, and multi-player features which could make them addictive and or problematic for some gamers.”
Dr Shumaila Yousafzai from Cardiff Business School also said that warning messages placed in games showed that the manufacturers “do take some responsibility into their own hands."
“These warning messages also suggest that the online video game industry might know how high the percentage of over-users is, how much time gamers spend playing and what specific features make a particular game more engrossing and addictive than others," said Yousafzai.
Many high-profile cases of extreme game addiction have appeared in the past years, including a South Korean couple whose baby starved to death whilst they played video games in 2010. Another case in February 2012 reported the death of a Taiwanese gamer named Chen Rong-yu, who suffered a cardiac arrest in the middle of a marathon gaming session whist playing in an internet cafe.
The distinction between 'good' and 'harmful' games is also difficult to define. Game designers frequently talk about the ‘addictive’ quality of their titles as a positive quality, and use game mechanics similar to those found in casinos in order to encourage play.
One such method is to offer rewards to the player, dispensed at random intervals. This creates tension where the player knows that will be rewarded at some point (maybe with a temporary power-up, or a points bonus) but without knowing exactly when this will happen.
However, these problems are hardly a new to society. The same mechanic explains addiction to slot machines - games which require little skill but offer the promise of players hitting the jackpot.
Gaming addiction is not limited to 'hardcore gamers' either, with free-to-play titles such as FarmVille or Candy Crush Saga using similar systems of incentives to keep casual players hooked.
Despite this most recent study, there is still dissent over what is classified as gaming addiction and how widespread a problem it might be. In the fifth and most recent addition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5; the de facto authority for classifying psychiatric disorders) gaming addiction was listed as requiring more research.