New film focuses on Video Game Addiction and how it strikes

2023-11-16

Video games can provide entertaining pastime. They can also take over lives on a level where friends, school and sleep no longer have a place. But how can a game enthrall to such extents? "It boils down to three variables that together determine which of us is at risk to develop an addiction," states Professor Mathias Hallberg in a new film from Uppsala University.

Mathias Hallberg, Professor of Molecular addiction research
Mathias Hallberg, Professor of Molecular addiction research

Our new digital world is placing an increasingly clear mark on the map of addictions. Many among us are replacing traditional intoxicants with screens, today occupying an average of seven hours of our daily life. Among the more popular occupations are video games, something practiced by nearly three billion people. How many of them that qualify for being addicted is unclear, but numerous studies indicate around 4 percent. The question is why some of us find it so hard to turn off the screen?

“One explanation to why certain people are more likely to develop addictions is our genetic inheritance. We usually talk about a number of candidate genes that can increase the probability, but do not necessarily mean that you end up in an addiction. Rather, it is how three specific variables interact that determine the risk,” says Mathias Hallberg, Professor of Molecular addiction research.

Since 2018, Video Game Addiction is included as a diagnosis in the WHO International Classification of Diseases, ICD-11. Here it is described as a pattern of behavior where gaming continues despite negative consequences. This includes prioritizing games over friends, school, work and other activities. During the pandemic, a global gaming rise of 39 percent was observed. In an English study, almost one in three described how they during lock down skipped both meals and personal hygiene in order to continue playing.

Patrick Prax, Department of Game Design
Patrick Prax, Department of Game Design

“There is a game design that deliberately aim to take advantage of vulnerable people and make them devote as much money and time as possible to the game. We find several examples among free-to-play and lifestyle games that lock the players into a community and make it difficult for them to do anything else. Here, society can definitely make a difference, for example via regulations that protect persons from games that exploit us,” says Patrick Prax, Associate Professor at the Department of Game Design.

On the other hand, the medicalization of game addiction and exclusive focus on the game or the gamer is criticized by a wide range of researchers. Their argument is that addiction, and especially game addiction, can be better understood and treated when taking the social and cultural context of the "addict" into account and changing it.

“Gaming during the pandemic can here for example be seen as both a valid survival strategy during lockdown and an indication that it is at least also social isolation that is driving a problematic engagement with games, and not only the overly referenced vulnerabilities of the player or properties of the game," explains Patrick Prax.

In Sweden, approximately 13 percent of all adults state that they play video games on a daily basis. In this group, poorer mental health, problems at work and more conflicts with relatives are also identified in comparison to people who rarely or never play. Between the ages of 9-18, almost 80 percent play video games every day. Among boys, 36 percent play three hours or more per day. Levels that inevitably affect their lifestyles.

Christian Benedict, sleep researcher
Christian Benedict, sleep researcher

“In a survey among teens in Uppsala County, every third respondent stated that they suffer from impaired sleep, and our changed nighttime habits are partly explained by new technology. Many, especially young people, bring their mobile phone with them to bed, which is risky behavior as lack of sleep, among other things, inhibits our brain's ability to process impressions and negatively affects our metabolism and performance,” says Christian Benedict, sleep researcher at the Department of Pharmaceutical Biosciences.

What limits are reasonable to set for screen time? The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry recommends up to one hour per weekday for children ages 2-5. For children and young people over the age of six, "healthy habits" and no screens the hour before bedtime are advocated. The reality, however, is quite different: In China, the average person plays video games more than twelve hours a week. In Sweden, more than one in two adolescents between the ages of 9 and 18 state that their internet use is a problem that keep them from doing things they should: homework, physical activities and going to bed on time.

“Effective prevention against addictions requires knowledge of who is at risk of becoming addicted. The variables we know are of significant importance are the genes we inherit, the psychosocial environment we grow up and live in and how much we use the intoxicant. All in all, these three provide an overall picture to act upon where measures are necessary,” concludes Mathias Hallberg.

WATCH FILM: VIDEO GAME ADDICTION

FACTS

  • Too much video gaming can make you feel sick and experience impaired sleep. At 1177.se you can learn more about things you can do yourself (in Swedish).
  • You can also receive help if you need it.
  • The film is made by Annica Hulth and Daniel Olsson, Uppsala University.

LEARN MORE

CONTACT

Mathias HallbergMathias Hallberg, Professor
Department of Pharmaceutical Biosciences
Mathias.Hallberg@farmbio.uu.se

Patrick PraxPatrick Prax, Associate Professor
Department of Game Design
Patrick.Prax@speldesign.uu.se

Christian BenedictChristian Benedict, Associate Professor
Department of Pharmaceutical Biosciences
Christian.Benedict@farmbio.uu.se

Text: Magnus Alsne, photo: Daniel Olsson, Mikael Wallerstedt, Stefan Tell m fl

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Last modified: 2022-11-08