Much has been written about the problem of gaming addiction in recent times. Since gaming is such a new hobby, it’s difficult to understand the full extent or reach of gaming addiction; a recent survey by ExpressVPN gives some insight into the amount of time spent gaming by generation, but at what points does it become an addiction? Gaming addiction is not recognised by the American Medical Association as a disorder that can be diagnosed, for instance. However, anecdotal evidence and studies have shown us that gaming addiction seems to be a real problem for the gaming population, so it’s definitely worth discussing.
What exactly does gaming addiction entail? This may be one of the questions that’s making a clear definition difficult. Some gamers can play games long into the night without feeling addicted, while others play for just an hour or two a day and still feel as though they are in thrall to the games they play. A new study by VPN company ExpressVPN could shed some light on this issue, though, so let’s take a look at some of its conclusions.
What does gaming addiction mean?
When we talk about gaming addiction, we’re referring to an inability to stop playing video games or an inability to stop thinking about them during other activities. Gaming could make other activities boring or frustrating, for instance, or simply remove the pleasure from them. Addiction could also make it hard to form or maintain relationships due to gaming, or it could interrupt work or other activities. The definition is fairly broad, but gaming addiction is essentially characterised as an inability to function in everyday life due to excessive gaming.
The study by ExpressVPN shows that 5% of millennial gamers admit they feel addicted to gaming, while 3% of Gen Z gamers admit to the same. Since ExpressVPN’s study is self-reported, the real number is likely to be higher, but that gives us an idea of how gamers feel about their own problems when it comes to gaming. Almost 30% of ExpressVPN’s respondents said they thought about gaming all the time, however, and almost half of those respondents said everything else was “boring” compared to games.
ExpressVPN’s definition of gaming addiction refers to a dependency on the dopamine that’s released when we accomplish something in a game. It could be achieving a high score, for instance, or beating an opponent in a multiplayer game. As with other dopamine-releasing activities, there could be a tendency to chase more and more unattainable highs, leading to longer gaming sessions and interruptions to everyday life, which now feels drab and grey due to the newly-conditioned dopamine response related to gaming.
What could gaming addiction lead to?
According to the ExpressVPN study, some of the biggest issues gamers face when it comes to gaming addiction are “neglecting essential everyday activities” such as eating, sleeping, or social interactions. Gamers also obsess over video games to the detriment of other activities, which gels with the idea of gaming addiction as a serious condition that needs to be medically addressed.
ExpressVPN also found that over half of its study’s respondents play video games “even though they know it can negatively impact their daily lives”. ExpressVPN’s study found that 30% of gamers “think about video games all the time”, while 58% play “despite possible negative consequences” and 47% “lie to their loved ones” about how long they spend gaming. Those are some worrying statistics, but they do suggest that gaming addiction should be taken more seriously.
Is there a gender divide when it comes to gaming addiction?
While ExpressVPN doesn’t provide clear data regarding the gender divide for the above statistics, it does tell us that there is a “marked difference” in how men and women perceive video games. Women, according to ExpressVPN’s study, want to “further reduce the time they spend” gaming, with “the majority” of female respondents admitting to this. Women also apparently “feel more guilty” about playing games during their free time than men do.
Interestingly, ExpressVPN’s study shows that men play video games to connect with their friends and to make new friends. This doesn’t appear to be as much of a priority for women, however; women say they play games primarily to “unwind and entertain themselves” rather than to engage in any kind of social activity with others. 43% of men say that they play video games to connect with their friends, while just 21% of women say they play for the same reason.
We’re speculating here, but one of the reasons for this could be the unspeakably toxic environment in which women and non-binary gamers find themselves. Reports suggest that many female gamers experience toxic behaviour themselves while gaming, and that still more witness toxic behaviour among others while gaming online. Women may avoid gaming socially because they don’t want to be subject to this toxicity, which suggests that the gaming landscape must change to further accommodate women.
It’s worth saying that ExpressVPN’s study seems to suggest women struggle less with gaming addiction than men do. The study shows that 72% of male respondents “lost interest in the hobbies that they used to enjoy” because of gaming, while just 49% of women say the same.
On a similar level, men report more negative emotions, such as anger or anxiety, when they’re unable to play their favourite games, than women do. While this doesn’t necessarily point to lower addiction rates among women, it does suggest that women experience the negative consequences of addiction less than men, which, in turn, could potentially mean women struggle with gaming addiction less.