According to the research of Olivia Metcalf, a PhD candidate at the Australian National University, people who spend an excessive amount of time playing video games are powerless to stop themselves from thinking about gaming.
Metcalf recruited 38 gamers from video game stores, internet cafes and on campus at the university, all of whom played games for more than five hours a week, averaging between 10 and 15 hours. Based on a completed questionnaire about negative consequences, 20 of the participants were found to be addicts.
Metcalf then gave those 20 video gaming addicts different-coloured words and asked them to respond to the colour of the word, not the meaning. It turned out that they were significantly slower to name the colour of gaming-related words compared to words which had nothing to do with gaming.
The research showed that the attention system of an excessive gamer gave top priority to gaming information. Even if they didn't want to think about gaming, they are unable to stop themselves. In the opinion of Metcalf, ‘this likely makes stopping or cutting back on gaming even more difficult’.
Attentional bias is a phenomenon to be found across heroin, nicotine, alcohol and gambling addictions, and is thought to be a significant factor in the development of an addiction.
Interestingly enough, while most people who play video games do not suffer negative consequences, a minority of gamers experience significant adverse changes to their diet, sleep, relationships, work and school commitments as a result of their inability to stop gaming.
However, that pattern was not found in people who play video games but don't experience any negative symptoms. So, in the words of Metcalf, ‘this is not something that occurs because you do a behaviour a lot. It's some sort of change that occurs in your attention system, in your brain, when an addiction is developing’.
The PHD candidate clarified that her research was some of the first scientific evidence that video gaming can be addictive and added that it ‘has found the core sign of addiction in these thinking systems of these people who play games excessively’.