Addiction to Games: Is It Serious?

Breaking rules and lying to play more is a sign of addiction.

Addiction to games like Everquest and World of Warcraft has serious consequences for some young people. More recently, serious consequences of addiction has been noted even among players of casual online games such as FarmVille. Though behavioral addiction (e.g., pathological gambling) are being included in the DSM, online addiction and addiction to games are not formally included yet.

I was curious about this and since I’ve been looking at the players of one casual gaming website for kids, Neopets, I just went ahead and asked some questions. I want to emphasize that this is just me being curious, not publishable research, because I did not have any sort of IRB here. I made a single post on the public Neopets forums asking: “I’ve been seeing a few people talking about being ‘addicted’ to Neopets. How do you know if you’re addicted?” I’ll highlight some of the responses here clustered using the Internet Safety Project questions for Online Game Addiction:

  • Do you play compulsively?

I always have neopets open in a tab when I’m online_ I can spend hours playing. I’ve also tried to quit and never been successful. I also tend to spend a lot on money for neocash or plushies for keyquest. :/

  • Do you play for long periods of time (often longer than you had planned)?

Signs of Addiction: You want to go to sleep but your laptop is right beside you with the neopets main page. YOu go on it for another “10 minutes”(What I’m doing right now XD) You go on neopets for 5 hours a day or more(Hmm…. might be me XD)

  • Once online, do you have difficulty stopping?

Lol I’ve tried quitting and cutting down. I spend nearly half my day on neopets everyday. I haven’t missed a day since….. Uh….. oh! Two days in June because I was on vacation and didn’t have net access. And before that.. er.. I can’t remember lol.

  • Do you play as often as you can?

I am on here every day. Sometimes I am on here for sixteen plus hours and other times I am only on here for a couple of hours.

  • Do you sneak or violate family rules in order to play?

Im not “addicted” I just spend at least 4 hours a day on Neo if I can, usually more. Im very involved in the site however I have taken very very long hiatus which was horrible since I missed so much! I told my family the other day that I would have to run away if they ever “compromised” my account.

  • Do you sacrifice real-world things for your online world?

I would wake up and tune out my family and just exist on Neopets. Neopets was negatively affecting my life. My family and I had a small hitch in our lives because of my time spent on Neopets.  At some point though, I changed. Probably when I got iced a few years ago and never could get my account back. I avoided Neopets for awhile, because it upset me so much. But I had taken things too far. I finally came back, and got caught up in the NC stuff there for awhile, and I seriously wasted a LOT of money. I can’t say at some point I won’t go through this same thing again, but I hope now that I’ve been through it, I will recognize it if it begins to happen and pull myself away.

  • Is your school or work suffering because of the time and energy you spend gaming?

Now the problem is that when I can’t handle the pressure of real life (like day before an exam), I rather escape it instead of trying to fix things.

  • Have your sleep patterns changed since you became involved with online gaming? Are you staying up extremely late or getting up in the middle of the night to play?

When you need a 5 hour energy shot the next day because you stayed up all night playing neopets and only got a couple hours of sleep. *drinks 5 hour energy shot*

If you’d like to read more, more anonymized answers are available here. Again, these are all folks who are currently playing the game, none of these people have managed to quit yet. The tendency in these situations is to blame the player for lacking willpower to stop or just being silly. Nobody ever talks about the game designer bearing any responsibility (e.g., this). Yet, games are getting more and more sophisticated at leveraging psychology and the chemistry of addiction to get people to play more. Are we expecting too much of kids and young people to be able to avoid these pitfalls? What can we do to help people find a way out if they become trapped in the cycle of addiction? Who should be responsible for providing these services?

One last thing, I hate to end on a hopeless note. If you or a loved one are facing online or gaming addiction, there are some resources available here. You do not have to be alone!

Being Happy in Grad School

A demonstration of being happy in grad school. Running through the sprinklers is also advised.

This blog entry is more personal than research. I just moved from Atlanta and I’ll be starting my new job at AT&T Research Labs on August 1st. So, I’m feeling wistful and I wanted to reflect and share just a few pieces of advice to the next generation of Ph.D. students.

I feel that there is a lot of negativity out there about grad school (the 100 reasons not to go to grad school blog, for example) and I certainly agree that it’s not for everyone. I recently had a friend tell me that I’m the only “actually happy person” he knows in a Ph.D. program. I’m sure there are plenty of other happy people, but it’s true that there is a lot of potential for misery in grad school. So, while other guides focus on “getting what you came for” or whatever, I want to share with you 5 practices (developed through much trial and error) that helped me stay happy in grad school:

  • Pick a good conference in your field and go to it every year (including your first year, even if you have to pay for it out of pocket) — when there were times that I thought about quitting (and there were those times), a conference has always brought me the energy, the influx of new ideas, and the wonderful people that I needed to get back in gear. My two chosen conferences are CHI (Human Factors in Computing) and IDC (Interaction Design and Children).
  • Avoid “time shifting” whenever possible — time shifting is when you end up shifting something you need to do today to another day in order to do some piece of work (e.g., “I’ll sleep tomorrow,” “I’ll get in touch with my advisor some other day, today I need to focus on this paper,” etc.). In my experience, time shifting only makes me more stressed out and less productive in the long run. If you need to skip this conference deadline and try for another, then maybe that’s the thing to do.
  • Get to know the people in your program — these folks are not only great to get to know as friends, but also will likely be your colleagues in the years to come. Also, they can commiserate with anything that you’re currently facing so they’re a great source of social support.
  • Have a routine that includes all of the things that are important to you — make a list of what is important to your happiness and make sure that you get a chance to do these things. My list includes things like swimming, hanging out with friends, exploring new places, reading for fun, and yes, research. You may have to set boundaries to make sure that the important things actually make it on your schedule, but it’s totally worth it to your overall level of happiness. I once told my advisor that I would not do certain types of academic activities because it would interfere with my work/life balance. He wasn’t happy at first, but later on accepted it and even said he admired me sticking to my guns on this (but, do pick your battles).
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help — when you’re struggling or need something, ask for it. I hate asking for help, but I basically went crazy when I tried to handle everything myself. I’ve gotten help from my advisor, my committee members, my lab mates, my roommates, my extended academic family, my biological family, people I’ve met at CoC Happy Hour, and professionals (the Counseling Center at Georgia Tech is free for students, may be the same at your school). Don’t be afraid of looking lame. Sometimes you have to decide whether you want to save your face or your ass and the choice should be clear.

For me, I’m more productive when I’m happy. So, when I plan to “swim, do 8 hours of work, and have dinner with friends,” I actually get a lot more done than when I plan to “work for the next 16 hours.” And, I’m immeasurably happier. Try it and maybe it will work for you.

As a bonus for those readers who are currently going or planning to go to Georgia Tech, here is Lana’s List of 100 Things To Do While You’re in Grad School at Georgia Tech. Enjoy and share your list with me when you make it!

Validated Measures for Family Communication Investigations

There are many advantages to using validated instruments while evaluating a family communication system. First, we can claim that the questions we ask actually measure what we think they measure. Second, if multiple studies use the same instrument, new forms of analysis become possible — allowing us to better build on each other’s work and conduct meta-analyses. Third, using validated instruments allows us to have better conversations outside of our immediate field. There are a number of validated instruments out there that may be useful and I want to highlight a few here. Other instruments that researchers in this domain have found relevant that have been listed on the Designing for Families wiki and that’s a good place to add to if you know of something good.

When evaluating communication technology, you may want to make claims about its effect on various aspects of the relationship between the people it is meant to connect. I suggest using the Network of Relationships Inventory (NRI) or Social Connectedness Questionnaire (specific version) in this case. If the relationship you are measuring is of a specific type (e.g. parent and child, married couple), it may also make sense to use a more targeted validated measure such as the Parent-Child Relationship Questionnaire. Sometimes, a technology may not be designed for a specific pair of people, but rather meant to increase a given users general sense of connectedness to others or emotional well-being. Two useful measures in this case are the Social Connectedness Questionnaire (overall version) and the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS).

All of the measures I mentioned so far measure outcomes but do not ask the participant to reflect on the technology that used. If this seems useful to you, you may want to take a look at the Affective Benefits and Costs Questionnaire (ABC-Q). I’ve been designing and validating a more focused version of it called the Affective Benefits and Costs of Communication Technologies (ABCCT) questionnaire. I have preliminary validations of versions for use with both children and adults, so feel free to try them out.

However, all of the above measures are really only useful if the person has had an opportunity to try your technology over a period of time so that changes in relationships, affect, and communication practices can be detected. However, there are a few validated measures that I find to be valid after a short interaction (such as a lab study). The Networked Minds Social Presence Measure is appropriate to use with adults. I have not had success adapting it to children as I think they may have trouble reflecting on a short interaction in this abstract fashion. With children, I’ve had more success using validated observational metrics to code video of system use, for example the Howes levels of social play coding scheme when looking at remote play.

If there is no validated measure for the aspect you are investigating, it may make sense to design and validate something that others would be able to use. I’d love to hear about this kind of work if anybody is doing it and early designs of such surveys.

All Mentioned Measures:

  • Bel, D.T. van, Smolders, K.C.H.J., IJsselsteijn, W.A., and Kort, Y.A.W. de. Social connectedness : concept and measurement. International Conference on Intelligent Environments, IOS Press (2011), 67-74.
  • Furman, W. and Buhrmester, D. The Network of Relationships Inventory: Behavioral Systems Version. International journal of behavioral development 33, 5 (2009), 470-478.
  • Furman, W. Parent-Child Relationship Questionnaire. In J. Touliatos, B.F. Perlmutter, M.A. Straus and G.W. Holden, eds., Handbook of Family Measurement Techniques. SAGE, 2001, 285-289.
  • Harms, C. and Biocca, F. Internal consistency and reliability of the networked minds social presence measure. (2004), 246.
  • Howes, C., Unger, O., and Seidner, L.B. Social Pretend Play in Toddlers: Parallels with Social Play and with Solitary Pretend. Child Development Vol. 60, N. 1 (1989), 77-84.
  • IJsselsteijn, W., Baren, J. Van, Markopoulos, P., Romero, N., and Ruyter, B. de. Measuring Affective Benefits and Costs of Mediated Awareness: Development and Validation of the ABC-Questionnaire. In Awareness Systems. 2009, 473-488.
  • Thompson, E.R. Development and Validation of an Internationally Reliable Short-Form of the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS). Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 38, 2 (2007), 227-242.
  • Yarosh, S. and Markopoulos, P. Design of an instrument for the evaluation of communication technologies with children. Proc. of IDC, ACM (2010), 266–269.