Video game addiction has increasingly become a topic of concern.  Some of the reasons children begin playing video games include: Social acceptance, relaxation, autonomy, competence, and escape from daily concerns.  Video gaming can become addictive because gaming is reinforcing.

  • The rewards are intrinsic, meaning that the reward for playing is in and of itself rewarding or pleasurable.  An example of an intrinsic reward is the experience of a player beating his/her own high score.
  • The rewards are extrinsic, meaning that the rewards for playing come from external sources.  An example of an extrinsic reward is receiving peer acceptance for owning and playing popular video games.
  • Video game playing can facilitate social connections with other players.
  • Some video games allow for players to experiment with different identities or personas.
  • The reinforcement is intermittent, meaning gamers keep responding in the absence of reinforcement in hopes of obtaining a new skill or reaching a new level that will reveal novel or hidden rewards.  This type of reinforcement is extremely rewarding and psychologically engrossing.

Can children experience video game addiction?

Countries such as China have introduced laws to limit the amount of time individuals can spend playing online games, and Holland and South Korea have opened treatment clinics dedicated solely for gaming addiction.  Is having restrictive laws and opening treatment clinics necessary?  Can excessive gaming lead to addiction and cause psychological damage?  Some evidence does suggest that there are a small percentage of children ages 8-to-18 that do display video game addiction.  A nationally representative study found that the average American 8-to-18 year old plays video games for 13.2 hours per week and that approximately 8% of video game players exhibit pathological or addictive patterns of play.

What are the core characteristics of video game addiction?

Some of the core characteristics defining video game addiction include:

  • Salience or importance (the activity dominates the person’s life at the expense of academic and/or occupational functioning and spending time in meaningful relationships with family and friends)
  • Euphoria/relief (engaging in gaming provides a relief from unpleasant feelings)
  • Tolerance (greater time is needed playing the game to achieve the same relief from unpleasant feelings)
  • Withdrawal symptoms (the experience of unpleasant physical effects or negative emotions when unable to engage in gaming)
  • Conflict (gaming leads to conflict with others, work, obligations, or self) and relapse and reinstatement (the activity is continued despite attempts to abstain)

What are some signs my child is engaging in pathological video game use?

A behavioral addiction means more than spending a significant amount of time devoted to a particular activity.  Video game playing becomes pathological when gaming causes serious negative life consequences.  Some signs that may indicate your child is engaging in pathological use of video games is skipping household chores to play video games, stating that playing video games is a way to escape from reality, skipping homework to play, and doing poorly on tests because of time devoted to playing.


In sum, for the vast majority of children, concern for video game addiction seems unwarranted.  However, for a small percentage of children, some studies suggest that excessive video game playing is causing damage on multiple levels, such as family, social, school, occupational, and psychological functioning. More research needs to be conducted to understand why some children are more susceptible to video game dependence and how best to resolve this issue.


Grusser, S.M., Thalemann, R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Excessive computer game Playing: Evidence for addiction and aggression? Cyberpsychology and Behavior, 10, 280-292.

Wood, R.T.A., Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, A. (2007). Experiences of time loss among videogame players: An empirical study. Cyberpsychology and Behavior, 10, 45-56.