In January 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) will officially recognize gaming disorder alongside opioid, cocaine, and alcohol dependence under its “disorders due to addictive behaviors” classification in its manual, the International Classification of Diseases (the ICD-11).
According to the WHO, gaming disorder is “characterized by a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour… which may be online (i.e., over the internet) or offline.”
Previously, the only non-substance-related disorder to be listed in the ICD-11 was gambling disorder. But now, playing video games excessively is squarely in the set of behaviors that can be diagnosed as a serious problem by healthcare professionals.
That’s not to say everyone agrees video game addiction is something to be concerned about. In response to the classification, a group of scholars, researchers, and gaming industry professionals (Aarseth et. al) submitted a paper in which they argued that the formal diagnosis was “premature.”
In their view, more research is needed to ensure that the norms around video games are better understood before rushing to diagnose an official disorder.
But even those researchers acknowledge that “some gamers do experience serious problems as a consequence of the time spent playing video games.” That view is shared by Wim Van Der Brink, a Professor of Psychiatry and Addiction at the University of Amsterdam.
Van Der Brink acknowledges that while gaming is “just another relatively innocent recreational activity with only a small minority losing control resulting in gaming-related problems,” the ICD-11 classification is a good thing, because it will allow problem gamers to get the treatment they need.
At Clutch, we’re in a unique position to contribute to this conversation. While we’re definitely not a clinical research organization, ours is among the largest and most engaged gaming communities. So we’ve been wondering: just how many gamers are taking their hobby too far? And which gamers are likely to be exhibiting gaming-dependent behaviors?
Using a modified version of the Greenfield Video Game Addiction Test, we surveyed 1,570 Clutch users to find out.
Note: Only a healthcare professional can accurately diagnose gaming disorder and other behavioral health issues. If you or a loved one are struggling with the use of video games, consider contacting the 24/7 helpline of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
How Many Gamers Are Addicted?
On our test, a score of 41.2 or higher is equivalent to a positive result on the Greenfield test. That means a gamer “may have some degree of problematic video game use.” Here’s a breakdown of how the gamers in our study scored:
Most of the gamers in our study don’t appear to have a problem putting down the controller, but over 1 in 4 (27.8%) scored above the level which corresponds with potential video game addiction.
The Most Addictive Games
Independent research shows that some games can be more addictive than others. Factors such as the number and frequency of in-game rewards seem to affect how “hooked” players can get from different games.
Those particular factors don’t really apply to Minecraft, however, which turns out to be the most addictive game in our study. Instead, its addictive appeal could be related to the fact that Minecraft doesn’t really have natural interruptions or end points like other games do. There are no breaks to prompt a player to quit the game, which seems like a potential recipe for addictive behavior to us.
What Kinds of Gamers are Most Prone to Addiction?
We were curious to know whether there were any other factors that correlated to gaming addiction. When we looked at gamers’ employment status, we saw a trend start to appear:
It turns out, employment status may be a factor. Gamers who were employed full-time had the lowest average addiction score. While gamers who were unemployed seemed to be the most addicted.We think it might be because unemployed gamers likely have more time to spend on the hobby, which means that it can veer into levels that feel like an addiction.
There’s also a correlation with unemployment and depression, and depressed people are more likely to get into addictive patterns. For many, gaming is a coping skill that turns from nurturing to numbing very quickly. Sometimes the shame/depression that comes from being unemployed is self-remedied through exercises like gaming, but the coping mechanism may develop into a dependency over time.
Video Game Addiction Demographics
Moderation is often viewed as a widely accepted approach to healthiness. Perhaps that’s why some people (hello, parents) view gaming every single day as problematic.
Of the over 1500 gamers we surveyed, over 2/3rds said they play games every day, much greater than the proportion that met our experimental criteria for addiction. Perhaps that’s because gaming provides many positive effects in gamers lives, including a sense of community. We’d say that just because someone games every day, it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a problem.
Gender and gaming habits
We’re not sure why women might be more prone to video game addiction than men, but we do know that mobile games can skew towards female players. And the mobile game market is heavily biased towards free-to-play games with monetization models based around microtransactions. Such games are often designed with addictive loops in mind for the sake of pay-to-win transactions, so perhaps there’s some connection there.
Gaming habits by age
When we looked at age as a factor, we noticed that the Gen Z gamers in our study seemed to be the most addicted. There could be a few factors at play here. We know that younger people tend to be more susceptible to addiction and other mental health issues. But we should also consider that younger gamers might be more likely to hear that their gaming is a “problem” from a nagging parent.
Funding Your Adult Child’s Gaming Habit
We wanted to see how games might be affecting players’ financial situation, so we asked how many of them were depending on their parents for financial support. To make sure we weren’t just measuring games with younger players, we filtered out any gamers under 18 years old.
We found that Minecraft had the highest number of adult players who still depend on their parents for financial support. And For Honor, Grand Theft Auto, and Gears of War all tended to have significantly more players than average who were still looking to Mom and/or Dad for money.
Giving it up for the Game
With so many gamers exhibiting potentially addictive behavior, we wondered how many of them were so dedicated to their gaming hobby that they’d give up parts of their lives (or bodies in some cases).
What we discovered was a little disturbing. Over a quarter (26.1%) said it would be worth it to shave their head if it meant they could keep gaming. What’s more, almost 13% of gamers said they’d gladly lose a friend rather than give up gaming for a year. And over 10% would pay $1000 instead of kicking the habit.
As with any health-related issue, more clinical research is required before we can definitively make links between video games and addiction. But the self-reported experience of the gamers in our study does seem to indicate that there are some games and gamers that are more correlated with addictive behavior than others.
In November of 2019, we administered a survey of 1,570 Clutch users via the Clutch app. The average reported age of the survey respondents was 20.55 years. 89.5% said they were male, 6.9% were female, 1.2% selected ‘other’, and the remaining respondents chose not to provide their gender.
Our survey relied on self-reported data, which can be affected by exaggeration, bias, and privacy concerns. We took reasonable steps to minimize those effects, including:
- Letting respondents know their responses would be kept anonymous
- Allowing for scaled (1-10) responses to the Greenfield Video Game Addiction Test questions (instead of yes/no answers)
- Describing why we were collecting the data to try and ensure respondents understood that accurate responses were important
- Holding demographic questions until the end of the survey to avoid self-identification bias
Findings were based on means and not statistically tested. As such, this content is purely exploratory, and future research should approach this topic more rigorously.
The WHO describes the symptoms of gaming disorder as:
- “impaired control over gaming (e.g., onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination, context);
- increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities; and
- continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences…(such as) significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.”
Fair Use Statement
Do you know someone who games a little too often? Feel free to share the results of our study or any of the graphs on this page for noncommercial use. The only requirement is that you link back to this page to give our authors proper credit for their work.