AotD: Family-, Media-, and School-Related Risk Factors of Video Game Addiction

Article of the Day:

Family-, Media-, and School-Related Risk Factors of Video Game Addiction: A 5-Year Longitudinal Study

by Rehbein, F., & Baier, D. (2013)

(Journal of Media Psychology, 25(3), 118-128.  DOI: 10.1027/1864-1105/a000093)


Background & Research

The effects of video games on children and youngsters as well as full-on video game addiction are topics that receive a fair bit of attention in the general media. As the importance of interactive screen media continues to grow in our societies, problematic use of video games has also been increasingly studied, and estimates of video game addiction (GA) range from 0,6 % (Norway) to 8.5 % (USA) among adolescents.

In studies with cross-sectional designs, male gender, higher impulsiveness, higher acceptance of violence, lower empathy, emotional stability and attractiveness, inferior social skills, higher negative valence and stress levels have been identified as person-based risk correlates for GA.

As regards risk correlates more directly related to the games played, more time spent gaming overall has been found to be a risk factor, but other factors matter too. Gaming online seems to have more of an association with GA than offline gaming, and so does gaming for reasons of status, escape or outside demands. Playing massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) also seems more linked to GA than playing other game types.

Several risk correlates relating to the social environment have been found to be relevant, too. These include lack of success in real life, low parental support, elevated use of video games by parents, divorce or separation of parents and school-related behavioral and educational problems.

In sum, a lot of factors in some way associated with GA have been found. However, it is largely unclear to what extent many of these factors are causes or consequences of GA, and to what extent they simply correlate with it. Few longitudinal studies have looked at risk factors or causes of GA. Lower social skills and empathy as well as higher impulsiveness seemed to increase the risk for GA in a Singaporean study, while depression, anxiety and school performance problems were seen to be outcomes of GA. In another study, loneliness both increased GA and was increased by it.

The exploratory study reported on here looked at socialization-related GA risk factors with a 5-year longitudinal design. A sample of 406 German school-children (45.3 % male) were studied first in fourth grade (mean age 9.7 years) in 2005 and again in ninth grade (mean age 15.0 years) in 2010. The Video Game Addiction scale (CSAS) employing ICD-10 definitions of GA, was used to assess GA in ninth grade. Potential risk factors related to social demographics and family, ownership of screen media, media use and school were assessed through questionnaires.


Results & Discussion

In fourth grade, video games were played on average for 56 min / day (76 min for boys, 38 min for girls), while in ninth grade the average was 137 min / day (207 min/day for boys, 79 min/day for girls). Ten adolescents (2.6 %) were classified as at risk of and five (1.3 %) as being addicted to video games in ninth grade.

The highest Pearson correlations with CSAS scores in ninth grade were found for male gender, gaming time, use of violent games and problematic gaming behavior. Ownership of screen media was also linked to higher scores on the GA scale, while better social integration and elevated well-being at school, as well as higher levels of paternal devotion and parental supervision were linked to a lower score.

Five different models were constructed to explain the variance in GA. In the fifth model with the greatest explanatory power (accounting for 21 % of the variance in GA), male gender remained the clearest risk factor. Children from single-parent families were also found to be at greater risk of developing GA according to this model, and problematic video game use in fourth grade also predicted later GA. Social integration into class and well-being at school continued to have (positive) statistical significance, but the influence of media use, ownership of media devices, gaming time and use of violent games were no longer relevant predictors in this model.

Limitations of the study methods include a relatively small sample, the exclusion of those children who repeated grades from the sample, the low reliability of some of the measures, as well as the challenges of reliably studying children as young as 9 years old.

In conclusion, socialization-related factors were shown to have impacts on the development of GA, but their predictive values were low, far below, e.g., male gender. The authors think it likely that psychological trait variables are overall better predictors of GA and may explain the influence of male gender, too. The most important findings here are the increased risk for children from single-parent families, where the authors speculate the computer or gaming console may be filling the space of the absent parent, and the fact that problematic use of video games appears consistent even over five years, meaning that later problems and addiction can be predicted by earlier problematic use. Social integration and well-being emerged as important protective factors. It appears children who lack involvement and have difficulties in their social environment are more likely to seek recognition and status in video games, increasing the risk for addiction. Overall, performance-related aspects of success at school seem to be less responsible for GA than social and emotional ones.

In addition to what was found, it is interesting to look at which expected links did not materialize in this study. According to the final model, parental devotion and supervision did not appear to be significant for the estimation of risk of GA in these school-children. It may be that for ages 10 and up, the direct prevention of media-related risk behavior by supervision and control is not as effective as previously thought. Measures to strengthen social competence and stress management skills might be better alternatives at these ages, encouraging children to find alternative ways of experiencing self-efficacy (in “real” life).

Somewhat surprisingly, ownership of media devices, usage times and the use of age-inappropriate content also did not appear to contribute significantly to GA in the end. More important than the violent nature of some games may be the specific game designs that make some games more addictive. As regards the effects of long periods of time spent gaming, the authors conclude that “only some children with higher gaming times also tend to develop a problematic video game use and also neglect real-life challenges to cherish friendships in school. These children are endangered not because of their elevated gaming time but because of the negative consequences they are willing to accept to sustain their gaming behavior.”



This longitudinal study, while not of the highest standards in terms of methodological rigor and sophistication, provides us with some interesting and even surprising results about risk factors for video game addiction.

The finding that spending a lot of time gaming is not that straightforwardly linked to developing an addiction is important and relevant for more general discussion, too. Experts on education often recommend setting time limits for gaming and other media use for children. While this may be helpful for the sake of having clear boundaries, and indeed a good strategy in the case of smaller children, the results of this study together with some other findings begin to demonstrate that there is far more to the issue of problematic gaming than simply spending too much time at it. Further, for older children, adult supervision and control do not seem that effective at preventing game addiction. Overall, it appears that more important than limiting the number of hours spent gaming, for instance, is ensuring children have in their lives other meaningful activities where they are able to experience success, self-efficacy, membership and importance.

In many ways, then, video game addiction can be seen as one possible result of wider problems with social skills and integration. There are, however, also indications that some particular forms of games are linked to greater levels of addiction than others. The case of MMORPGs, the current archetype of which is World of Warcraft, illustrates this clearly. It is not surprising that games such as these that reward spending excessive time at them at the expense of all other life, appeal to players’ need for status and recognition, and include elements of pressure to play (e.g., from clan/team members) would be more addictive. Indeed, it is not hyperbole in my opinion to say that games like WoW are in many ways specifically designed to be addictive.

Share Button

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *