For many people, video games are a fun and enjoyable hobby, but for others, they can become a harmful habit. Video game usage becomes problematic when it impacts a person’s relationships and daily functioning. At present time, video game addiction is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), but the World Health Organization has classified gaming disorder as a disease in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11).

Online video game addiction is becoming a real problem and has become the topic of numerous research studies. Video game addiction statistics tend to vary, as there are no formal diagnostic criteria, symptoms or behaviors to define video game addiction. However, the facts about video game addiction show that compulsive gaming is a significant problem for many people.

Why Are Video Games Addictive?

Research has attempted to explore why video games are addictive. One reason is that video games are designed to entice players to play them. Video games must be challenging enough to keep players playing, but not so challenging that they cause players to give up. Some video games have no final goal or definitive end, which allows players to continue to play them indefinitely.

Many addictive video games encourage people to electronically connect with each other, which can promote continued gameplay.  Some video games operate on leveling and variable reward systems, where people earn skills or rewards by beating certain levels without knowing exactly when it will occur. Knowing that a big reward will come eventually and playing to reach the next level can increase their overall playing time.

There are several emotional and physical warning signs of video game addiction that can be indicative of a problem. Individuals may be consumed with thoughts about playing and show signs of impatience and agitation when they are unable to play. People may be dishonest about the amount of time that they spend playing video games and isolate themselves to play for longer. Physical symptoms include:

  • Tiredness
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Lack of personal hygiene.

Gamer Demographics

More than 2 billion people play video games globally, including 150 million in the United States. Online video game addiction statistics show that anywhere from 1–10% of gamers have compulsive addiction issues.

Other gamer demographics include:

  • 64% of the U.S. population are gamers
  • The average male gamer is 33 years old.
  • The average female gamer is 37 years old.
  • Males between the ages of 18–24 are most at risk for gaming addiction
  • 94% of males and 6% of females represent the gender breakdown for gaming addiction
  • 69% Caucasian, 13% Asian and 18% of other ethnicities is the ethnicity breakdown for gaming addiction.

The Rise in Gaming Addiction

The video game industry continues to grow at a rapid rate. In 1999, the industry generates $7.4 billion in revenue, compared to $131 billion in 2018. Some reports speculate that the video game industry could make $300 billion by 2025.

Video game accessibility is also on the rise due to technological advancements. Individuals can now play video games on televisions, cell phones, desktop computers or notebook computers. This accessibility has allowed more individuals to play video games more often.

Video Game Usage Rates

Statistics on video game usage tend to show growth in the average time spent playing video games. One study reports that while individuals played video games for an average of 26 minutes per day in 1999, it had increased to 32 minutes per day in 2004. Another study found that by 2009, 8 to 18-year-olds spent an average of 1 hour and 13 minutes playing video games on consoles, handheld players and other devices.

Most Addictive Video Games

The most addictive video games include massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) and role-playing games (RPGs). Some games feature elements of both these popular styles (MMORPGs). MMOs can be addictive because individuals can comfortably interact with numerous people in a collaborative or competitive setting. RPGs are addictive in that individuals can role play another life that they may be envious of or desire. Multiplayer online game statistics show that 22% of gamers spent between 61–80% of their time playing multiplayer online games.

Some of the most addictive video games played today include:

  • Fortnite. Fortnite is a shooter game where an individual plays against 99 other gamers with the goal of being the last one alive. The game is played by more than 200 million people and has made at least 1.2 billion dollars through V-Bucks, or in-game currency.
  • League of Legends. League of Legends is a multiplayer game where a team of individuals battle another team of players with the goal of destroying their “nexus” structure.
  • World of Warcraft. World of Warcraft entails a person controlling an avatar to explore lands, fight monsters, conquer quests and interact with other players. As of 2009, 11 million people around the world were playing the game
  • Call of Duty. Call of Duty is a first-person shooter game set in various settings. In 2003, the first version of the game was set in World War II, but throughout the years, more modern settings, such as the Cold War or space have been added.
  • Assassin’s Creed. Assassin’s Creed is an action adventure game in the third person perspective where individuals fight, explore and complete quests. While the game has individual missions and some games are competitive and cooperative games where multiple individuals can partake.

Harmful Effects of Video Game Addiction

There are several short and long term negative effects of video game addiction. In the short-term, individuals may experience disruptions to their sleeping habits, leading to fatigue, sleepiness or insomnia. They may also have a disruption in their eating habits, leading to skipping meals, poor nutrition and hunger. People may isolate themselves and miss out on socialization opportunities, which can potentially lead to a loss of friends and decreased social skills. People may also be at increased risk for seizures due to the flashing and fast-paced images included in video games. Long-term effects of video game addiction may impair a person’s academic, career or financial success.

Video Game Addiction and Co-Occurring Disorders

Individuals play video games for various reasons, whether it be for entertainment, competition or as a coping mechanism for other conditions. Video game addiction is also found to often co-occur with other conditions. 

  • Gaming and Depression: There is a significant correlation between video game addiction and depression. One study found that 9% of elementary and secondary school students were classified as pathological gamers and were using video games as a coping strategy when already depressed and anxious. Individuals who are depressed may isolate themselves and attempt to escape from stressors with video games. 
  • Gaming and Anxiety: Another linkage has been found between video games and anxiety. Some people use video games to cope with stress and anxiety, as they are able to escape stressors and ignore recurrent thoughts by maintaining focus on their games. Another correlation exists between video games and social anxiety, as gaming enables people with social anxiety to connect with others without having to physically interact with them. As people become more comfortable interacting virtually, they tend to become more anxious in regards to real-life interactions, causing further isolation and increased gaming. One study researched individuals who play MMORPG’s and found that increased levels of social anxiety disorder were linked with those who had internet gaming disorder. The study also found that individuals with social anxiety disorder were less anxious when interacting with others through their avatars.   
  • Gaming and ADHD: ADHD and video game addiction also have a connection. Individuals with ADHD may play excessively due to poor time management and have the ability to hyperfocus on a video game, which tend to reward brief spurts of attention. A study found that individuals with ADHD had an elevated rate of compulsive and problematic video game usage. 
  • Gaming and Autism: The correlation between autism and video game addiction suggests that people with autism can become overly involved in gaming due to repetitive behaviors, resulting in inattentiveness and obsessive behaviors leading to addictive playing patterns. One study found that the average time of male children ages 8 to 18 with an autism spectrum diagnosis was 2.4 hours per day and those who played role-playing games were more likely to display oppositional behaviors. 

Statistics on Video Game Addiction Treatment

Video game addiction is an impulse control disorder that can be just as serious as other types of addictions. Treatment is necessary to help a person to overcome their dependency on video games. As video game addiction is a fairly new disorder, research is still ongoing to help develop proven treatment methods.

Video game addiction treatment is comparable to other addiction treatments. Individual and family counseling, along with behavior modification, is the treatment of choice. At times and if warranted, medication may be included in the treatment plan. Unlike other types of addictions, it is difficult to remain abstinent when computers are an integral part of life for the majority of people. Due to this fact, treatment may focus on controlling video games and computer use rather than completely abstaining from it.

If you or someone that you know is struggling with a substance use disorder and a co-occurring video game addiction, The Recovery Village can help. Representatives that specialize in addiction can be reached at 352.771.2700 and can help you find a treatment program that is right for you. Facilities are located across the United States.