Gaming addiction, definition and measurement (Spekman et al., 2013)

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It has been nearly a year since I reviewed an article on videogame addiction. I picked up an article published in Computers in Human Behavior and authored by Marloes Spekman, Elly Konijn, Peter Roelofsma (VU University Amsterdam) & Mark D. Griffiths (Trent Nottingham University). Mark D. Griffiths is one of the foremost expert in videogame addiction being the earliest to explore the videogame addiction issue.


Although the general public appears to have embraced the term ‘videogame addiction’, the scientific debate as to whether ‘gaming addiction’ can actually be considered an addiction similar to substance addictions of DSM-IV is still unsettled. To date, research on gaming addiction has focused on problematic behavior from the gaming activity itself and there has been little empirical research related to pathological personality patterns that usually are associated with substance addictions. Therefore, the current study examined how game exposure and ‘problematic gaming behavior’ are related to personality patterns associated with addiction by means of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2 (MMPI-2). A large-scale survey study was performed among 1004 adolescent boys (age-range 11–18, M = 14.18, SD = 1.36) measuring problematic gaming behavior, physical game-related symptoms, gaming behavior and three MMPI-2 subscales measuring personality patterns usually associated with substance addiction (MAC-R, APS, AAS). Results showed that problematic gaming and physical symptoms were positively related to all MMPI-2 subscales, while game exposure was not related to the indirect measures of addictive personality patterns (i.e., MAC-R, APS). Thus, problematic gaming should be clearly distinguished from high game exposure. High game exposure merely indicates enthusiasm for some although it may be psychopathological for others.

The Steam summer sale is open, I will practice self-control by following some simple rules.

The authors started by referencing to a book called ‘Unplugged: My Journey into the dark world of video game addiction’ written by Ryan Van Cleave. The first time I heard of that book was when it was published and its now-old website linked my blog as a sort of resource. I was pleased I was cited in his website and concerned that he might written his book from second-hand information (i.e., me).

The authors discussed the difficulties of defining videogame addiction. Multiple researchers use different terms, like pathological gaming, gaming dependence, etc. (I stuck with videogame addiction because I’m stubborn) without explaining their word choice (which complicates searches). There are several key points the authors touched on. First, the distinction between high engagement and addiction. Charlton & Danforth (2007) first made the argument that the number of hours spent playing videogames is not a good indicator of videogame addiction. This is true as with any new releases, we lock ourselves in our room until we beat. The addict, however, would stay locked in anyway and probably playing the same game released years ago (which might be an interesting clue).

Mark Griffiths wrote in earlier papers that any addiction should have six psychological components: Salience (e.g., the addiction dominates thoughts, feelings and behavior), mood modification (i.e., using it as a way to cope or to change moods), tolerance (i.e., needing for longer period of time to change your mood or that pleasant feeling), withdrawal symptoms, conflict (e.g., conflict with others and yourself because of your addictive habits) and relapse. Charlton & Danforth (2007) found some are peripheral criteria and core criteria for videogame addiction, cognitive salience, mood modificiation and tolerance  versus conflict, relapse, behavioral salience and withdrawal symptoms, respectively.

The authors touched whether videogame addiction is a symptom of a pre-existing problem or a cause of problems. There are studies that support both arguments. One study found lower self-esteem, social competence and loneliness are risk factors, another study found that addiction lead to depression, anxiety and social phobia. Thus, “the resulting behavior is nonetheless addiction”.

As alluded earlier by the six psychological components of any addiction. The authors sought to examine whether videogame addiction is similar to other types of addictions through a set of established addiction assessment tools. The first is the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-2 to be exact). It is a monster of a questionnaire containing 567 items, assesses for psychopathology and maladaptive personalities, widely known and used for clinical research. Thus, the authors pulled out several subscales for this study. The authors argued that alcoholics, substance abusers scaled at the same level with alcoholics on the MacAndrew Alcoholism Scale and it has some useful items that are not so obvious to respondents, thus minimizing any denials of addiction. There are more assessment tools, but the idea is they are using established measures and are trying to see if videogame addicts scale at the same level as other addicts.


Participants: 1004 adolescent boys from the Netherlands. Age range is 11 to 18 years (M=14.18, SD=1.36). Most boys played videogames whereas very few (2.59%) never played videogames.

Procedure and materials

It’s a survey done in their classroom on paper and pencil.

All measures are answered on a “Yes/No” basis, unless indicated otherwise.

Problematic gaming behavior: 6-items from one of Mark Griffiths earlier papers. Participants who responded ‘yes’ to four or more indicated problems with gaming behaviors.

Physical symptoms: 7-items, e.g. “I often have back aches.”

MacAndrew Alcoholism Scale-Revised (MAC-R): 49 items. Those who answered ‘yes’ to 24 or more indicated having an addictive personality.

Addiction Potential Scale (APS): 39 items, self-explanatory title.

Addiction Acknowledgement Scale (AAS): 13 items, very obvious items where one can openly admit of being addicted.

Game Exposure: Participants were asked how many hours they played videogames per week. They were also asked if they had a preference to play online or offline.


Scores from the Problematic gaming behavior questionnaire resulted in 86 boys (8.57%) of having problems with their video game habits. Scores from the MAC-R results in 14.14% of boys as having an addictive personality. These percentages falls within the range from previous studies.

The authors correlations and found many positive and significant ones. Problematic gaming behavior is correlated with the MMPI subscales. Physical symptoms are correlated with the MMPI subscales, but not with game game exposure or preferred play.

The authors conducted a MANOVA to examine whether gaming addicts’ scores on the MAC-R, APS, and AAS are higher than the non-addicts. It turns to be statistically significant. MAC-R (M=21.47 vs. M= 19.74), APS (M=21.52 vs. M=20.35), AAS (M=6.98 vs. M=4.15).

A MANCOVA was conducted to control for game exposure time, preferences for offline vs. online play preference and age. The score differences remain statistically significant. Further analysis on those covariates revealed that game exposure and play preference affect MAC-R and AAS scores whereas age affect APS and MAC-R scores.


The take home message is videogame addiction shares the same psychological components (i.e. addictive personality traits) with other forms of addiction. The authors noted that physical symptoms are correlated with the MMPI measures, but not with game exposure. They argued physical symptoms are not necessarily related to long hours of playing videogames, but to psychological issues. Another take home message is that videogame play time alone is not a good indicator of videogame addiction. Videogame addiction is associated to excessively long hours, but is also associated with psychological and physical problems as well.

The authors cautioned that findings are correlational, so they cannot establish causality. To establish causality would require a longitudinal study.

Spekman, M. L. C., Konijn, E. A., Roelofsma, P. H. M. P., & Griffiths, M. D. (2013). Gaming addiction, definition and measurement: A large-scale empirical study. Computers in Human Behavior, 29 (6), 2150-2155. DOI:10.1016/j.chb.2013.05.015

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