When does gaming become a problem? New online test predicts risk of gaming disorder

Summary: The WHO recently recognized video game addiction as a mental health problem. A new online test can help detect those most at risk of developing gaming disorder. New research suggests personality traits and socioeconomic factors may contribute to gaming disorder.

Source: Birbeck University of London

Addiction to video games has been recognised as a new type of mental illness by the World Health Organisation (WHO), one associated with extreme cases of uncontrolled gaming behaviour and excessive game playing. In line with the criteria developed by the WHO, researchers have developed the first psychological test to check for ‘gaming disorder’– which they now plan to expand to produce the largest study to date on gaming disorder.

Now available to the public and accessible online, the test can tell participants if they meet the WHO criteria for gaming disorder. The results will provide gamers with feedback on their video game habits in comparison with the rest of the population.

Lead researcher Dr Bruno Schivinski, Lecturer in Marketing at Birkbeck, University of London, said: “We want to understand the point at which gaming becomes a health problem, and which factors contribute to the development of gaming disorders, exploring sociodemographic variables, personality and motivations. We hope there will be thousands of participants in the next phase of the study.”

Anyone who can no longer control their gaming behaviour prioritises computer games over other activities and does not change this behaviour despite negative consequences could be suffering from gaming disorder according to the WHO definition. A pattern of gaming behaviour which has had significant impairment in family life, education or work performance must have been evident for a minimum of 12 months in order to meet the criteria.

A 34-year-old male who took the test, and wishes to remain anonymous, said: “I had no idea I was playing too much… no one says anything about that, you know? You just keep playing and everything is fine…

“I was playing every day for six hours or more after getting home from work. I was not sleeping much, not going out with friends, not eating much, and when working from home, I was not doing anything but playing games. That is not good, I am changing it now, but it is not easy without support.”

The test has been trialled on an initial group of over 550 participants from Great Britain and China, with the results published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. This found that the prevalence of gaming behaviour did not differ significantly between the British and Chinese groups and that on average, gamers played for 12 hours a week; and that almost half of this gaming time (46%) occurred alone on weekends. A total of 36 participants (6.4%) reported major problems in everyday life due to their gaming behaviour and could, therefore, fulfil the WHO’s diagnostic criteria.

“Excessive video gaming is already a serious health risk in Asian countries and an emerging problem in Europe. In order to conduct large international studies, we designed the new instrument in a cross-cultural way and tested it in China and Great Britain”, explains Professor Christian Montag, head of the Department of Molecular Psychology at Ulm University.

This shows a child with a gaming controller
A pattern of gaming behaviour which has had a significant impairment in family life, education or work performance must have been evident for a minimum of 12 months in order to meet the criteria. The image is adapted from the Birbeck University news release.

ESL, the largest esports company, with close ties to the gaming community, is helping to recruit further test participants. Rodrigo Samwell, CMO at ESL said: “ESL wants to support responsible gaming. We believe in a world where everybody can be somebody and being somebody means you can be dedicated to the game but also to your family and achieve a positive gaming-life balance. As the leader in the esports market we want to contribute to responsible gaming, and that is why we are supporting this study to help individuals understand better their behaviours towards gaming.”

The researchers are from Birkbeck, University of London, Beijing University in China, the University of Electrocis Science and Technology in China and the Medical Faculty of the University of Tasmania (Australia).

The online gaming disorder test is available here.

About this neuroscience research article

Birbeck University of London
Media Contacts:
Bruno Schivinski – Birbeck University of London
Image Source:
The image is adapted from the Birbeck University news release.

Original Research: Open access
“Measurement and conceptualization of Gaming Disorder according to the World Health Organization framework: The development of the Gaming Disorder Test”. Pontes, Halley & Schivinski, Bruno & Sindermann, Cornelia & Li, Mei & Becker, Benjamin & Zhou, Min & Montag, Christian.
International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. The study is available via ResearchGate.


Measurement and conceptualization of Gaming Disorder according to the World Health Organization framework: The development of the Gaming Disorder Test

Previous research on Gaming Disorder (GD) has highlighted key methodological and conceptual hindrances stemming from the heterogeneity of nomenclature and the use of non-standardized psychometric tools to assess this phenomenon. The recent recognition of GD as an official mental health disorder and behavioral addiction by the World Health Organization (WHO) in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) opens up new possibilities to investigate further the psychosocial and mental health implications due to excessive and disordered gaming. However, before further research on GD can be conducted in a reliable way and within a robust cross-cultural context, a valid and reliable standardized psychometric tool to assess the construct as defined by the WHO should be developed. The aim of this study was to develop The Gaming Disorder Test (GDT), a brief four-item measure to assess GD and to further explore its psychometric properties. A sample of 236 Chinese (47% male, mean age 19.22 years, SD=1.57) and 324 British (49.4% male, mean age 26.74 years, SD=7.88) gamers was recruited online. Construct validity of the GDT was examined via factorial validity, nomological validity, alongside convergent and discriminant validity. Concurrent validity was also examined using the Internet Gaming Disorder Scale – Short-Form (IGDS9-SF). Finally, reliability indicators involving the Cronbach’s alpha and Composite Reliability coefficients were estimated. Overall, the results indicated that GDT is best conceptualized within a single-factor structure. Additionally, the four items of the GDT are valid, reliable, and proved to be highly suitable for measuring GD within a cross-cultural context.

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