Understanding male psychology key in treating gaming addiction

It’s time to pay more attention to the unique factors that predispose men to gaming addiction, suggests a paper recently published in the American Journal of Men’s Health. The study, led by UBC master’s student Kevin Chen, underscored the importance of understanding the societal norms and masculine values that can lead men to excessive gaming.

In this Q&A, Chen, now a nurse practitioner based in B.C., talks about his research and what it could mean for men’s mental health services.

What is online gaming addiction?

Internet gaming addiction or disorder is a behavioural addiction that resembles substance use disorder in many ways. Someone addicted to video games will often lose sleep or forgo meals in order to continue playing. They might lie about their activities to their parents or loved ones. Over the long term, this can lead to poor health and social isolation. In extreme cases, there have been reports of people losing their jobs or ruining their relationships, or even dying after hours of nonstop playing.

Who are most at risk of gaming disorder?

In my review of 13 key research papers on the subject, it quickly became clear that men, much more so than women, are more likely to become heavily dependent on online gaming. Four in five players of online multiplayer games are male. And young men, in their late teens or early 20s, are the ones most likely to show addicted behaviours, contrary to popular impressions that teenagers are most at risk.

Multiplayer games, like League of Legends and World of Warcraft, are particularly compelling because they generally have no ending and they provide endless variety. The gamer can take on any number of online roles and play different variations of the game, often forging strong relationships with other online characters.

How does male psychology and social values play into the equation?

Some research, including earlier studies by this study’s senior author and my research supervisor, John Oliffe, suggest that social norms that discourage men from seeking help or talking about their emotions, could play a role in gaming disorder. These norms could feed existing feelings of social anxiety or social isolation. They could also be barriers to seeking treatment. My study indicates that we don’t know enough about these connections.

And that’s not ideal for two reasons. One, the research shows that gaming addiction is likely underdiagnosed and underestimated. Two, men tend not to seek health services as readily as women.

More research is needed. Internet gaming is on the rise worldwide—it generated $12 billion in profit in China alone in 2013—so we need to understand this phenomenon better and likely better treatment protocols. Primary care providers, like myself, play a vital role in early recognition and timely treatment of gaming disorder. We need to be much better equipped to deal with it when we see it.