Neuroscientist Warns Against Labeling Gamers as Addicts, “Very Little Evidence” Video Games Are Addictive

Neuroscientist Nastasia Griffioen has proposed that stigmatizing against those who play video games as “addicts” could be disastrous, could even strip away coping mechanisms, and that there is “very little evidence” to suggest video games are addictive.

Griffioen is a doctoral researcher at GEMH Lab (Games for Emotional and Mental Health), who are “committed to meeting young people in the digital playgrounds they have chosen to inhabit and providing choices that delight and empower youth while also training emotional resilience skills.” The lab is a subset of Radbound University’s Behavioral Science Institute.

While speaking at Ubisoft’s Keys to Learn event in London on September 30th, Griffioen stated that there was no evidence to suggest video games lead to depression or anxiety, “but it may be in fact that people go to video games to cope with their problems.” Griffioen also stated:

“I think we can all agree that there are certain instances in which anything can become problematic. It’s like if you say, ‘eating food is bad for you’. Sometimes food might be bad for you, but other times it isn’t.

There may be instances of problematic gaming out there in society, but really we’re talking about one or two percent of all people who play games.

Absolutely there’s the possibility that those people are there, but overall there is very little evidence to show that video games are addictive, certainly compared to any other hobby.

Of course video games are something that people like to play and if there is something you like to do, like reading books… nobody is going to say you’re addicted to reading books.”

Griffioen continued, stating that there is an issue with how some people video digital media and mental health:

“It’s a very specific attitude that we have towards digital media, whether it’s games or social media. We need to be really careful about how we do that, because if we do stigmatize people basically as being addicted to video games, we might take away those video games when they might be a coping mechanism for a deeper, underlying problem like depression or anxiety.

And we really have no evidence to show that video games lead to depression or anxiety, but it may be in fact that people go to video games to cope with their problems.”

The World Health Organization officially declared “gaming disorder” as a disease in May 2019. The organization has until 2022 to introduce new preventative measures and treatments.

In case you missed it, you can find our Gaming Disorder editorial series here (1, 2, 3). Part two also voices our concerns about ripping away a coping mechanism.

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Ryan was a former Niche Gamer contributor.

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