Is there any evidence that gaming itself can lead to aggressive behavioral traits or depression? My Mind News investigates further.
First – a case study
There has been a long-held opinion that gaming and its addiction can potentially lead to behavioral issues, including aggression and depression. But is there any evidence that supports this theory, and if so, what does it say?
Recently, in the state of Victoria, Australia, there was an inquest held into the 2019 death of regional school boy Oliver Cronin. During the inquest, the coroner cited problematic gaming behavior as the driver of a mood disorder that contributed to his death.
The findings from the coroner’s investigation were published in a report which stated,
In the 12 months preceding his death, Oliver appears to have become obsessed or addicted to video gaming. He became irrational and aggressive at times. His parents tried to restrict his access to the gaming devices in an attempt to temper this behaviour, but this led to an escalation in Oliver’s behaviour escalating to verbal and physical abuse against his parents and extreme temper tantrums. In the weeks preceding his death, Oliver was also involved in physical altercations with other students, which resulted in two short suspensions from school.
But what can we draw from the coroner’s findings in this particular case, and is there any evidence that problematic gaming in and of itself can lead to depression or aggression?
Correlation or causation?
In the case above, the coroner found that Oliver had a “gaming disorder” as defined by the World Health Organisation, although he was not diagnosed as such during his life.
The WHO’s classification of a gaming disorder is based on a person’s attitude towards gaming rather than time spent gaming. , gaming becomes a disorder when it starts interfering with a person’s healthy daily functioning.
Evidence suggests that more than two billion people worldwide play games, but less than 1% are thought to have a gaming disorder. Debates about the potential harms of gaming are often framed around whether violence in gaming can cause violence in real life. For this, there is simply no evidence.
There is some correlation, but these findings must be assessed very carefully. For example, research shows gamers who are already more socially sensitive, or have existing mental health issues, may be more sensitive to violence in games.
Gaming is a form of escapism
There’s a marked difference between a gaming addiction causing aggression or depression and an already depressed or troubled person turning to games as a form of escapism.
The research tells us gaming has no harmful impacts on healthy young people who don’t have existing mental health problems.
However, negative forces in life may drive some people towards gaming as a way to cope. Specifically, people who already feel a sense of self-blame, loss of control in life, or social disengagement are more likely to turn to gaming as a coping mechanism – not unlike how some may turn to drugs, alcohol, or gambling.
Gaming, however, is much more accessible to young people. And in situations where gaming is used as a form of escapism, the gameplay does not resolve the underlying issue. It simply puts it on hold for a while.
Cutting off gaming cuts off a coping mechanism
It’s often young people, and namely young men, who tend to be the subject of research investigating the potential harms of gaming. This is an essential factor when addressing the findings of this research.
Adolescence is more likely to be a complex and fraught time compared to other life stages. It is, therefore, not surprising problematic gaming is more commonly found in this group. But again, this is not the same as gaming itself being the driver of young people’s troubles.
In cases where gaming is used as a coping mechanism – and this is forcibly removed from their life – they may feel an even larger sense of hopelessness or loss.
The bottom line is that there’s no evidence to suggest that gaming leads to aggression or depression among young people. The reality is, as ever, much more nuanced.
The findings in the Victorian coroner’s report are a reminder we still don’t fully understand precisely how problematic gaming ties into various other factors in a person’s life. We’ll need more balanced and in-depth research to unpack this issue.
We lack experts who are specialized in addressing gaming disorders. And globally, we lack consensus on how problematic gaming can and should be classified, or even if it should be considered a disorder at all.
For parents concerned about a child’s gaming habits, one approach may be to play games with the child and engage in discussion without judgment. However, each approach chosen should be as individual as the child who needs support.
As with all matters of technology these days, whether it be social media, or internet use/abuse. or cyber-bullying, we must all get running simply to keep up with the hyper-speed developments in this arena. Getting left behind isn’t an option for us or those in our care.
What are your thoughts on the contents of this article? Do you have any experience of gaming becoming an addiction? Tell us more in the comments.