With the growth of the gaming industry, there has been growth in the proportion of individuals who play video games. Video game addiction, otherwise known as internet gaming disorder, is recognized by the DSM-5 as a “condition for further study”. It has also been suggested that, in the World Health Organization’s 2018 International Classification of Diseases, gaming disorder will be soon be classified as an official mental health disorder.

Defining Video Game Addiction

The key, defining characteristics of this condition are a preoccupation with and excessive use of video games, despite the psychosocial problems that occur as a result. Individuals with the disorder often dedicate at least 8-10 hours of their day to gaming despite knowledge of other responsibilities, amounting to at least 30 hours per week. IGD may lead to physical symptoms of fatigue, migraines due to eye strain, carpal tunnel syndrome and/or poor personal hygiene among other complications. Video game addiction is most common in males between the ages of 11 and 17 years old; the disorder is less common in females although when present in females, it is associated with a higher risk of negative outcomes.4

In the United States, it has been estimated that approximately 8.5% of youth engage in pathological video game use, compared to 10% in China and 11.9% in Germany.2 Individuals who seem to be at a higher risk for the disorder are those from single-parent families and those with low social integration in class and at school.5 Certain types of video games also place players at higher use. For example, one study found that multiplayer online role playing games are more often associated with video game addiction.6

As the use of video games becomes more widespread, the time spent playing has also increased. Video game marathons are defined by an extended period of time spent gaming, usually without a break. Marathons have become widely discussed in the media due to the health implications with which they are associated. During a video game marathon, players may become so immersed in the game that they do not engage in the behaviors necessary for optimal functioning. For example, they may go without water, food, or sleep for hours on end. With video game addiction suffer from similar symptoms to those who are addicted to substances or other activities.

Health Complications Associated with Video Game Addiction

In the last 13 years or so, news stories illustrating the dangers associated video game marathons have existed, however, more recently these stories have seemed to become less of a rarity. One of the first serious cases of health complications due to video game marathoning was reported in 2005 when a 28-year-old South Korean man died after playing an online computer game for 50 hours with few breaks. Officials investigating the case suspected heart failure due to exhaustion was the cause of death. At the time that this occurred, those who participated in gaming marathons were the minority, however, in the past 7 years, there have been several more devastating stories that have gained media attention.
In 2011, for example, a 20-year-old British man after a blood clot traveled to his lung from his calf due, it is suspected that the blood clot formed due to extended periods of sitting. Other deaths include a 24-year-old man in who died in 2015 after playing a popular video game for 19 hours straight, and the death a teenager in Taiwan in 2012 who died after playing a video game at an internet cafe for 40 hours straight. More recently, a 35-year-old father died after participating in a 24-hour gaming marathon. A 21-year-old woman went blind in one eye after a marathon session. She was later diagnosed with retinal artery occlusion, which is associated with severe eye strain.

Overall, individuals with a video game addiction experience poorer mental health and impaired cognitive functioning to include difficulties with impulse control and symptoms of ADHD.4 Further, these individuals report more stress, anxiety and a lower level of life satisfaction1 and high rates of comorbid depression.7 Neurologically, internet gaming disorder is associated with increased white-matter integrity in the reward center of the brain and in the sensory and motor control systems.3

While internet gaming disorder is still consider a “condition for further study” in the DSM-5, the dangers associated with it are real. Games usually used as entertainment may have serious health implications for those who use it them excess. It is important for video game users to understand the risks associated and that individuals who have tendencies mirroring the symptoms of a video game addiction seek professional guidance which may include group or family therapy, behavior modification, dialectical behavioral therapy, expressive arts therapy, recreation therapy and/or 12-step programs.

1. Bargeron, & Hormes. (2017). Psychosocial correlates of internet gaming disorder: Psychopathology, life satisfaction, and impulsivity. Computers in Human Behavior, 68, 388-394.

2. Cheng, K. (2012). Video game addiction. Neuropsychiatrie De L’enfance Et De L’adolescence, 60(5), S118.

3. Dong, Guangheng, Wu, Lingdan, Wang, Ziliang, Wang, Yifan, Du, Xiaoxia, & Potenza, Marc N. (2018). Diffusion-weighted MRI measures suggest increased white-matter integrity in Internet gaming disorder: Evidence from the comparison with recreational Internet game users. Addictive Behaviors, 81, 32-38.

4. Stockdale, & Coyne. (2018). Video game addiction in emerging adulthood: Cross-sectional evidence of pathology in video game addicts as compared to matched healthy controls. Journal of Affective Disorders, 225, 265-272.

5. Rehbein, F., & Baier, D. (2013). Family, media, and school-related risk factors of video game addiction: A 5-year longitudinal study. Journal of Media Psychology: Theories, Methods, and Applications, 25(3), 118-128.

6. Van Rooij, A., Meerkerk, G., Schoenmakers, T., Griffiths, M., & Van de Mheen, D. (2010). Video game addiction and social responsibility. Addiction Research & Theory, 2010, Vol.18(5), P.489-493, 18(5), 489-493.

7. Wang, Cho, & Kim. (2018). Prevalence and correlates of comorbid depression in a nonclinical online sample with DSM-5 internet gaming disorder. Journal of Affective Disorders, 226, 1-5.

by Callie Patterson

Callie Patterson is a graduate student pursuing a degree in psychological sciences at Northern Arizona University.

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