"Gaming Disorder" Overblown, Oxford Researchers Say

Apparently, our mental and emotional satisfaction isn't completely governed by our gaming habits.

Last year, the World Health Organization recognized “Gaming Disorder” as a mental disease. Symptoms of this disorder include 1) giving priority to gaming over other interests and daily activities, and 2) continuing to game even in the face of negative consequences. A recent study published by researchers at Oxford, however, suggests that blaming one’s unhealthy “psychosocial” life on obsessive gaming may be unfair.

One of the principle researchers in this study, Dr. Andrew Przybylski, remarked on his work:

Our findings provided no evidence suggesting an unhealthy relationship with gaming accounts for substantial emotional, peer and behavioural problems.  Instead, variations in gaming experience are much more likely to be linked to whether adolescents’ basic psychological needs for competence, autonomy, and social belonging are being met and if they are already experiencing wider functioning issues.  In light of our findings we do not believe sufficient evidence exists to warrant thinking about gaming as a clinical disorder in its own right.

Adolescents who experience “functioning issues” may play a lot of games, but games are not the root of the problem. In fact, the impact of games on our emotional well-being is relatively small. Dr. Przybylski supposes that understanding people’s emotional and mental state demands a wider context.

To arrive at this conclusion, Dr. Przybylski and his colleague, Dr. Netta Weinstein, measured the impact of “dysregulated” gaming (not being able to play) on one’s “psychosocial” functioning. The results were indeterminate. Dysregulated gaming does cause frustration, but on a level that is insignificant in comparison “with the role played by basic psychological needs.” These “basic psychological needs” are:

  1. Competence, feeling effective in acting on the world and achieving desired outcomes;
  2. Autonomy, experiencing a sense of choice and psychological freedom; and
  3. Relatedness, feeling close and connected to others.

Again, the research here shows that there is much more to our lives than just our desire to play games. As such, it is irresponsible to assume that gaming is the sole cause of satisfaction and/or frustration we may feel. “We urge healthcare professionals to look more closely at the underlying factors such as psychological satisfactions and everyday frustrations to understand why a minority of players feel like they must engage in gaming in an obsessive way,” says Dr. Weinstein.

There are still those horror stories of people who play World of Warcraft and neglect to take care of themselves and/or their families. Such cases are certainly alarming, but this research suggests there are underlying factors that lead people to behave so poorly.

Dr. Przbylski and his team have already done extensive research on the addictive nature of games and their effect on mental health. You can find some of this research by following the links below.


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Joseph Schaffner

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