4 min read

Are you a problematic gamer?

Are you a problematic gamer?

Hi everyone, and welcome to a brand new episode.

Today’s episode concerns problematic gamers and the risk factors that contribute to it. What characterizes problematic gamer, and what are the risk factors? A better understanding of this helps gamers to improve their health by bettering their gaming behavior.

Internet Gaming Disorder is a mental disorder.
Psychological risk factors include the motives to play, self-control and related traits, and self-esteem.
~54% of gamers were categorized as problematic gamers.
Difficulty controlling your gaming behavior, or problems (e.g., depressive mood, trauma, or loss of a job) can cause problematic gaming.
• High impulsiveness, high escapism motive, and low self-esteem generally contribute to problematic gaming behavior.
Knowing the risk factors and watching your behavior can help you to improve your health and gaming behavior.

Playing video games has become a major leisure activity for many people and can be considered an inherent part of our society. Some of us may just play from time to time, whereas others engage in extensive gaming on a regular basis. Too much playing is known to have negative effects on humans, such as physical and mental health, and well-being. In 2013, Internet Gaming Disorder was added to the list of mental disorders.

Identifying psychological risk factors and clustering gamers into subgroups accordingly is important for various reasons. It helps to foster a better understanding of the matter – the gamers, development of problematic gaming, and potential treatments.

🚨 Problematic Gaming & Risk Factors

Generally speaking, there appear to be two major subgroups of problematic gamers. The first subgroup contains those who have difficulty controlling their gaming behavior and just keep on playing. Some of them probably even know that they are playing too much but can’t stop hitting the “Play” button again. What may play a role here too is that video games are products, and products are usually designed to satisfy the customer and keep them involved with the products. In other words, video games are – to a certain degree, similar to social media – built to be immersive, engaging, or even addictive so people keep on playing.

For the second group, problematic gaming may just be a symptom of another problem e.g., depressive mood, trauma, or the loss of a job. In that sense, gaming is a way of coping with a problem. Let’s say you got in trouble at school or work; playing video games in order to distract you from the negative feelings may seem to be a useful strategy.

Numerous studies in recent years have focused on psychological factors in gamers to identify problematic use. Most of them focused on three factors: motives to play, self-control related traits, and self-esteem. In order to identify subgroups of problematic gamers, using the three factors above, the authors of the study surveyed 1057 World of Warcraft players.

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📜 What were the Results?

In the study, three subgroups of problematic gamers, and two non-problematic gamers were identified. The latter subgroups represented about 46% of the players. That means that about half the players scored low on the three risk factors, and are therefore not considered to have a problematic use of video games. However, it is important to understand that part of the 46% may as well be problematic gamers according to other risk factors. Additionally, a proportion of them may be at risk of developing a gaming disorder but didn’t score high enough yet on the questionnaire.

The non-problematic gamers in the study are players characterized by low impulsivity traits, high self-esteem, and for them, playing online does not have a high priority in life. Those types of gamers may just be your average casual, recreational gamer.

“This suggests that, for them, the game does not serve to satisfy basic needs (such as autonomy, competence, or social affiliation), which are probably pursued through real-life activities.” [1]

One subgroup of problematic gamers showed low achievement and high escapism motives, as well as low self-esteem, and high impulsiveness. As mentioned earlier, escaping into the world of video games may be a strategy for some gamers to cope with problems in real-life, or traumatic events.

The second subgroup of problematic gamers is also impulsive and has poor self-control. They are primarily motivated by achieving in the game, and less interested in socializing or escaping from real-life. In other words, those types of gamers are the ones who play e.g., to level up or collect rare items.

Similar to the first subgroup of problematic gamers, they have trouble controlling themselves and not queue up another round, or not log-in to farm some rare items.

“[...] regular players with diminished self-control capacities will be more at risk of developing excessive patterns of use because of the heightened incentive nature of the game.” [1]

Gamers who are achievement-driven, play for long hours, and play to forget about real life and its problems represent the third sub-group identified in the study. Surprisingly, those gamers also have high self-esteem.

“A tentative explanation for this unexpected association [between self-esteem and escapism is that] it is as if for them the ‘‘virtual’’ self has overwhelmed the real self, implying a potential denial of real life and an over involvement in virtual life.” [1]

In the last episode, we discussed the influence of impulsivity on our gaming behavior. The results of this study are in line with it and show the importance not just of impulsivity, but traits of a person in general that contribute to their gaming behavior. Another factor we discussed in an earlier episode is emotions, and how they influence our urge to play game after game, as well as in-game performance.

☝🏻 Implications for better Health and Gaming Behavior

Identifying risk factors of problematic gaming as well as subgroups of problematic gamers is important for various reasons. It can help gamers with a problematic use of gaming and those at risk to work towards a better understanding of the matter. It also helps to foster a better understanding of which factors play into the development and maintaining of problematic gaming behavior. At the same time, it can help those players and professionals to treat internet gaming disorder.

On a more practical level, it can help you to improve your behavior and health. If you find yourself fitting into one of the problematic gaming subgroups, you can seek help, or begin to adjust your behavior. Knowing the risk factors and governing your behavior, such as noticing the urge to play another game or farm a rare item for another 2 hours, are valuable assets to improve your gaming behavior.


Christian 🙂

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[1] Billieux et al., 2015

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