Do you obsessively collect gaming achievements or often 100% games with tons of mindless collectibles? Do you find it hard to let your guild down by taking a week off of raiding? Can’t wait to get off work and step into the life of your level 78 Dovahkiin? If so, you could have a problem according to a new study from researchers at the University of Missouri.
The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, identifies several risk factors for adults developing “problematic” video game usage habits. Among the warning signs are using games to escape from real life, playing games as a way to socialize with other people, and obsessive collecting of items or loot.
“The biggest risk factor for pathological video game use seems to be playing games to escape from daily life,” said Joe Hilgard, lead author of the study and a doctoral candidate in the Department of Psychological Sciences at Missouri. “Individuals who play games to get away from their lives or to pretend to be other people seem to be those most at-risk for becoming part of a vicious cycle. These gamers avoid their problems by playing games, which in turn interferes with their lives because they’re so busy playing games.”
The study defines “problematic video game use” as more than high play times, which wasn’t directly associated with addictive video game behaviors. When a problem, playing video games can interfere with real-life obligations such as work, and players can end up lying about playing video games. The study found that “problematic” video game use can have similar effects as other addictive activities, such as abusing alcohol.
Given the risk factors identified in the study, it’s not surprising that Hilgard and his colleagues view MMOs as the most addictive of video games. The genre seems to (and often purposefully) combines social interaction, loot grinding, and role-playing to create the psychological need to continue playing.
“Researchers have suspected that Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) are the most addictive genre of video games,” said Hilgard. “Our study provides some evidence that supports that claim. The games provide opportunities for players to advance levels, to join teams and to play with others. In addition, the games provide enormous fantasy worlds that gamers can disappear into for hours at a time and forget about their problems. MMORPGs may be triple threats for encouraging pathological game use because they present all three risk factors to gamers.”