Video Game Addiction in the Age of Smartphones (Part 1)

Video game addiction isn’t new. It has been around since the first generation of console games became mainstream entertainment devices. However, globalization has made the issue more prevalent with ever more efficient distribution of video games to the masses. It is affecting people of all ages, especially teens and preteens.

What is Game Addiction?

Just as with gambling and other forms of addiction, video game addicts exhibit compulsive behaviors and excessive use of the object of addiction. A general misconception is that people who like to play video or computer games are addicted to gaming. This is not true. In fact, most gamers are not addicts – many teens can play games a few hours a week, successfully balancing school activities, results, friends, and family obligations. Studies estimate that only 10 to 15 percent of gamers exhibit signs that meet the World Health Organization’s criteria for addiction. Therefore, only when gaming has become an uncontrollable compulsion is a person considered to be an addict.

Video Game Addiction Statistics

Children and teens are particularly vulnerable to video and computer game addiction. According to a Common Sense Media Research Study on USA children:

  • Half (51%) of all children aged 0-8 have played a console video game, including 44% of those aged 2-4 and 81% of those aged  5-8.
  • Among those who have played console video games, the average age of first use was just under 4 years old (3 years 11 months).
  • Among 5- to 8-year-olds, 17% play console video games at least once a day, and another 36% play them at least once a week.

Not all these gamers are addicts, but there is a growing concern about game addiction problems because of the emergence of a new breed of gaming devices – the smartphones.

Mobile Internet and Game Addiction

I believe the problem of game addiction is going to worsen with the advance of the mobile Internet and the proliferation of smartphones and tablets such as iPhone and iPad. These devices have made playing video games more portable, more private and more viral.

Five to six years ago, when a child was playing video games, he was probably playing at home in front of a computer or a console. Most of the time he would be playing alone or with friends, without the possibility of having strangers discover what he was playing. He probably could not play for too long with his parents around.

But now, the game has completely changed, hasn’t it? A child can now play video games anytime and anywhere – in the classroom during breaks, on the bus while traveling to school, or even outside school at a friend’s place . He can now bring his games with him and play with complete absence of adult supervision. Worse still, he now has a higher chance of “infecting” others when he brings his mobile device around, influencing friends to discover and play new games. Game companies understand that very well and most games have built in social elements to accelerate the spreading of their games among users.

All this is happening rapidly with very little education and action being taken. With game apps dominating 52% of worldwide smartphone app usage (Flurry Analytics, Jan-Feb 2012), it’s clear that we need to brace ourselves for a new generation of mobile and casual game addicts.

Game Addiction and Its Influence On Behavior

Video game addiction has profound influence on our children’s physical and psychological development. How is video game addiction linked to academic performance? What types of video games tend to be most addictive? How is parenting style associated with video game addiction? I share more findings on the nature of video games and their impact on children in Video Game Addiction in the Age of Smartphones (Part 2).




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