By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
A new study shows the risk factors for “pathological,” or obsessive, video gamers. It shows that these children become more depressed and anxious the more they play. The risk factors that made a child a pathological gamer include the child being impulsive, socially awkward, and played more games than the average child.
The study appeared in the journal Paediatrics (Monday) and involved more than 3,000 elementary- and middle-school children in Singapore over a two-year period.
The authors write, “Greater amounts of gaming, lower social competence, and greater impulsivity seemed to act as risk factors for becoming pathological gamers, whereas depression, anxiety, social phobias, and lower school performance seemed to act as outcomes of pathological gaming.”
Results show that serious gamer make up to 9% of the children – a figure similar in other countries. The kids who were labelled excessive gamers spent an average of 31 hours a week playing video games. Common symptoms are falling grades, poorer relationships with parents and interest in more violent games. The scientists believe that this behaviour in childhood is a precedent for long-term mental illness. They warn that pathological gaming is not a “phase” and those with a problem still had a problem two years later. The study found that over a two-year period, about 84 percent of the gamers who were initially labelled as pathological remained so. The researchers also found that students who stopped their excessive gaming ended up with lower levels of depression, anxiety and social phobia than those who continued gaming.
The Entertainment Software Association, a trade association representing gamers, refuted the findings in a statement. “There simply is no concrete evidence that computer and video games cause harm," it read. “In fact, a wide body of research has shown the many ways games are being used to improve our lives through education, health and business applications.”
The American Academy of Paediatrics however recommends that elementary school age children engage in no more than one hour of screen time a day, and high-schoolers no more than two.