But a study refining criteria for the diagnosis of computer game addiction by Dr John Charlton, Research Fellow in Psychology in the School of Health, Psychology and Sport, shows that incidences of addiction could be 10% lower than some currently accepted classification schemes suggest.
Current research into internet-related addictions often classifies people as addicted by using symptoms that are also used in the diagnosis of gambling addiction. But Dr Charlton believes that some of these symptoms are not appropriate for dependencies such as multiplayer online game playing.
Said Dr Charlton: 'This is my second research project in this field to confirm this outcome; that several symptoms researchers had thought were important in diagnosing computing-related addictions were actually only indicative of high, but non-addictive, involvement. This means that taking them into account when conducting research gives an incorrect result - 10% higher than is correct.'
But for those who are hooked on multiplayer online games social problems can mount.
In an online survey of more than 400 gamers who were regularly playing a game called Asheron's Call, the research project discovered some players confessed their time online led to arguments at home and negatively affected their work and social life. On average they were spending 18.5 hours a week online playing. One player claimed to be spending 100 hours a week online. Among the criteria that Dr Charlton believes are important in classifying people as addicted, the survey showed:
- more than 40% said their social life was suffering
- 30% recognised gaming was interfering with their work
- 40% said it was causing arguments at home
- 50% confessed they were not getting enough sleep
- 35% said they missed meals to carry on playing.
Dr Charlton and his study partner Ian Danforth of the Department of Psychology at Whitman College, Washington State, USA, say that their data supported the assumption that the playing of online games with at least a moderately high violent content is largely a male pass-time - 85% of the survey respondents were men.
Said Dr Charlton: 'Asheron's Call (which is now discontinued) was a multi-player online role-playing game, the sort of game which can be particularly addictive. The game involved players in a role-playing adventure which was unpredictable and offered opportunities for social reinforcement from other players, both elements which have been proven to add to a game's attraction.
'However, while our research suggests online gaming may not be as addictive as research has previously suggested, gaming addiction is a real issue for some people who find gaming seriously affecting their lives.'