Video game addiction: Top 10 signs and symptoms of pathological gaming

Pathological use of video games has been reported in 8-14% of people who play video games. But what are the signs, symptoms and characteristics of video game addiction? We review here.

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Signs of video game addiction

The main negative consequences of video game play may be the most important. This is because video gaming can affect your social life or work and school performance….in negative ways. Although this list is not exclusive, it is a beginning point for evaluating possible video game addiction or pathological video gaming problems.

1. Gaming leads to conflict with others, work, obligations, or self.

2. Video game play dominates life and becomes the most important activity in the day.

3. Video game play provides feelings of euphoria or a ‘high’ and relieves unpleasant emotions.

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4. Development of tolerance for video game play begins (you need to play more to achieve the same “high”).

5. Withdrawal symptoms are present when video game play is decreased, unavailable or removed (restlessness, irritability, or other negative feelings).

6. Video gamers relapse and reinstate play and cannot abstain from video games.

7. Excessive video game play may lead to increased aggression.

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8. A person who is addicted to video games may begin to display decreased pro-social tendencies.

9. Physical symptoms from excessive play manifest such as pain in the wrist or peripheral neuropathy (nerve pain, loss of sensation, or inability to control muscles)

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10. Normal social and occupational or educational functioning become impaired during video game addiction.

Why do people play video games?

Most people start out playing video games for fun and entertainment. They enjoy the stimulating and challenging scenarios present in games, as well as the emotions that the games produce. But, more intense gamers enjoy the “flow” states of gaming which result in intensified focus, loss of sense of place or time and can find video gaming intrinsically rewarding. There is a fine line between this “flow” state and compulsive use of video games which can result in excessive video game play.

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What is excessive video game play?

8-14% of video gamers showed pathological symptoms caused by excessive play during recent studies in China, Spain, the U.S. and South Korea. But what is excessive video game play? Is compulsive and excessive video game play related to time or amount of games played or consequences of video gaming?…or all of the above?

Pathological or obsessive play of video games is different than ordinary video gaming. It is characterized by both higher frequency and/or longer time of playing video-games than is normal. Although players may initially begin playing a video game for entertainment, video game addicts begin to lose control of play and create serious negative life consequences for themselves. Therefore, video game play becomes pathological when associated problems lead to worsened normal social, work or academic functioning and other harmful effects of video games. In short, excessive video game playing is the result of:

* higher frequency of video game play
* longer amount of time playing video games (how much is too much?)

Who are video game addicts?

As with any other mental and medical condition, there are certain risk factors which can influence the development of compulsive gaming. In other words, people with the following characteristics may be more likely to become pathological gamers:

Age – Problematic video game play is more likely among younger people than older people.  (How do video games affect children?)

Amount – People who play video games in greater amounts (total time)

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Gender – Video game addiction is more likely among men than women.

Psychological status – People with greater impulsivity, high hostility, and lower social competence are more likely to become video games addicts than those without such characteristics.

Is video game addiction a mental illness?

Scientists, researchers and doctors are still debating whether or not video game “addiction” is similar to other addictive behaviors such as compulsive gambling, compulsive sexual disorders, compulsive eating, etc. Currently, the experts are deciding if pathological video game play should be classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as a mental health disorder. What do you think? Should this new technological phenomenon be classified as a mental health problem? Your comments and questions are welcomed below.

Reference sources: Cyberpsychology , Behavior, and Social Networking  2011
Pathological Video Gaming
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.


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  1. A daughter plays videos all the time. She’s got a mild autism condition, as well.

    After playing much of the day she becomes very irritable, hostile and frequently nasty.

  2. I think it is a big problem.My son stays on there for hours and hours at a time.You cant even get a conversation out of him.I believe he has an addiction.He is very very short tempered.He stays up all night,sleeps all day.I asked his girlfriend,if she was able to watch T.V.He cannot sit down and watch a show.Hes hooked.They are also going to have a baby,which worrys me a lot.I think it takes its toll on family members.If you can be on there for a few hours,thats different,but if you stay on there for hours and hours,thats totally ridicolus.It consumes his life.Ive told him to not let it take over his life.He gets mad at me.He works,hes unwinding from working,i understand,but hes on it way to much.Iam very concerned,as a parent.Ive told him,to not let his child be on the gaming all the time.I think its bad for a persons mind,to be hooked like that.

  3. Actually Edda, video game addiction is more common to the adults more than you think. There are a large number of video game adults around the world. We all just concentrate on the fact that the younger generation get stuck playing. I see my former college professors play video games on their office computer while waiting for a class. You’ll even hear some occasional screaming from them. I’m just happy they’re not late in class because of gaming.

  4. Hi Edda. Thanks for sharing your perspective. Impulse control is a sign of mastery of the mind, and is quite difficult to achieve. I wonder how many people can or will achieve impulse control in a lifetime?

  5. All forms of addiction have physical, mental and emotional roots. I believe the mental part of addiction plays the biggest role in relapse because, long after the detox from the physical addiction to the chemical, when the purely chemical calling of the drug has waned, the drug still calls to the addicts mind and their mind always hears that call. Which is why The Twelve Steps and meeting with other addicts are such a powerful weapon against the drug’s call, because they fill the addict’s ears with other voices that, at least, help the critical-thinking challenged addict’s mind weigh and decipher consequences so they will have at least a shot at impulse control. That being said, any form of addiction, including an addiction to video games, has a strong mental component and is a manifestation of illness in the mental arena because video games are all about the mind. Vidoe games allow one to conquest, conquer, devour, maim, capture and kill, all from the comfort of the living room couch. Video games simultaneously feed man’s biological nature to hunt, chase, conquer and be declared conqueror while simultaneously undermining his drive to actually go out into the jungle of the real world, and risk failure, which, in the dog eat dog real world, means to be eaten. Pac man was the perfect example of the link between man’s biological nature to consume or be consumed, as Pac man gobbled up everything on the screen. All forms of addictions are also deeply rooted in obsessive and compulsive behavior, with a ritualistic component, and are video games, with their music, and symbols and repetitive steps or levels of ascension all about the ritual of devouring and climbing and ascending in a certain predictable sequence. I mean, the whole gamer setting is all about the safety of the couch. If you already can’t leave the couch, for whatever reason, we can fairly safely assume that your mind has been compromised and that your mental faculties are leaning toward shut down. Add marijuann and the munchies to that, and you have the making of an obese agoraphobic pot head with a penchant for self-protection. The video gamers are the more ambitious obese agoraphobic potheads of the bunch because at least their brains still yearn to function and be stimulated by the mental aerobics and manual kinesthetics that video games provide but, nonetheless, they still haven’t left the couch and they are still very much in emotion shut down can’t leave the couch mode, which is the poster child for mental illness, if you ask me. Mentally healthy people get up off the couch, brush their teeth, open the front door and walk outside to feel the sun and be a part of the world. Any lifestyle that impairs or impedes that process is about mental shutdown, and a host of other pathological possibilities ranging from PTSD to laziness, which is really just depression’s diguise. If you haven’t yearned to feel the sun on your shoulders in more than a month, then perhaps you too fall under this heading. But the grand daddy of all of these mental afflictions is depression which has its roots in so many more realms than just mental illness. Depression can be caused by nutrition, endocrine/hormones, thyroid, central nervous system, environmental, chemicals, trauma, abuse and many other factors. That’s why the cookie cutter diagnosis is never the way to go with what appears to be mental illness…

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