Depression is an often misunderstood issue that affects one in 10 adult Americans. Commonly termed as a mental illness, the symptoms and signs of depression are often overlooked and/or ignored. A recent study out of Victoria University in Australia is reported to have found a link between increased levels of anxiety and gaming. The media swarm around this story appears, on the surface, to be largely interested in the depressive influence gaming has on young adults. The findings themselves are still preliminary, and the research itself continues even now.
Could video games cause depression? Let’s take a look at the study before we break down the issues at hand.
The study itself is being conducted out of Victoria University by Dan Loton, a researcher currently completing his PHD in Psychology through investigating a correlation between video game playing and health. To get a clear picture of what exactly this study entails, I contacted Dan Loton, the researcher behind the study itself.
About the Study
When asked how many participants he expected to take part in the study before it is complete, he responded: “Ideally, I’m hoping for a continuous block of data over nine months from about 3-400 people. However, the more participants take part, the more valid the findings and the more representative of gamers worldwide. Also, more analyses are facilitated by a larger sample size. Considering there are millions of gamers in the world, then a sample of 400, even a longitudinal sample, is still relatively small.”
Previous studies into the influence of long-form gaming have been conducted with a pool of participants in the thousands. The findings of those research studies vary widely, and have mixed conclusions. For example, a study published in 2010 by the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics worked with a pool of 4,028 adolescents. The study found that while males were largely unaffected by “problematic” gaming, females that took part were less likely to report depression and more likely to take weapons to school, smoke, drink, and engage in fighting. The research team concluded that the prevalence of problematic gaming was very low, and could be contained within a larger spectrum of externalizing behaviors. To put it another way, if a teen smokes and engages in otherwise unhealthy behavior, they’re more likely to become a compulsive gamer.
Loton’s study is a little different. Participants at least 18 years of age can volunteer to take part by signing up on his Tumblr page. The research itself reaches past the typical areas of aggression and depression and into more substantive areas including parenting, working, studying, and romantic relationships. In a sense, his intentions are to dig deeper into the correlation between compulsive gaming and overall health, both physical and mental.
What About Other Factors?
“The study takes into account past mental health diagnoses as well as treatment history. This would include substance abuse, if a participant indicates this.” He said, “Also, the study asks whether participants have experienced any global stressful events (e.g. death of a loved one, moving house) in the past month, which will help to rule out other causes of any increases in psychological distress. These events can be ranked according their stressfulness using past research on stressful events, and this can then be controlled for in the statistical analysis, or these participants can be removed from the sample and analysed separately.”
He went on to say that the goal of the study is to establish whether or not excessive or dependent video game playing behavior has an actual impact on mental, social, and physical health. Loton isn’t ruling out the potentially helpful advantages to gaming, “It may be quite possible that video game playing, even excessively, is an effective coping mechanism, and the data over time will help to reveal whether any problems associated preceded or followed excessive play.”
Does Gaming Cause Depression?
Gaming is undoubtedly as addictive as any other human activity. Some people are addicted to eating, others to biting their nails or compulsive shopping. Dan Loton, an admitted gamer himself, is no stranger to the lure of the controller. He’s also been studying gaming addiction and its effects on social interaction for some time. In 2007, he submitted an honors thesis on the subject, which itself cast doubt on the stereotype that people with poor social skills turn to gaming to cope. In essence, it actually shed a very positive light on gaming, which conflicted with the media coverage of the time.
Scientists have attempted to study the link between gaming and various mental disorders for decades. Research studies have come up inconclusive time and time again due in part to small pools of participants, extenuating outside influences, and results that border on the margin of error present in any group study. The correlation between gaming and addiction is one that the gaming community as a whole has had a difficult time with, to say the least. Just take a glance down at the comment section of this article, and you’ll probably see at least a couple gamers defending their position. Each individual can only speak from a limited perspective of personal experience, which is one of the reasons studies like this are so important to understanding the science between social and mental health.
I’m a gamer. In fact, I played a few rounds of CoD: Black Ops before writing this article and will probably load Skyrim or some other adventure title later this evening. I can’t deny that the world of online gaming has had some impact on my ability to work in the past. When Half Life 2 came out, I suddenly came down with an illness and couldn’t make it to work that day. If you asked whether or not I agree with the preliminary findings linking gaming to depression, I might agree. Depression is an extremely broad term that encompasses a variety of different issues and patterns. Not all people experience the same signs and symptoms, and an addiction (40+ hours of gaming per week is an addiction; let’s be honest here). is certainly a big indicator of at least some level of depressive behavior.
Still, if you are concerned at all with your own gaming habits, there are plenty of resources to help you. Loton has included a page on the research site filled with useful links for anyone with such concerns. Loton advised, “A good place to start is the local family doctor, if the information resources there aren’t able to help.”
How to Participate in the Study
If you would like to participate in the study, simply visit the site on Tumblr and sign up. This is the best way to have your own experiences documented. It’s common for a large discussion to spring up with this topic, but the best way to make your experiences count is by taking part in the studies. Your honest experiences can help ultimately prove, disprove, or shed light on the science of psychology and gaming.
Plus, you could win $500 Australian. What better incentive is there to take part in science?!
So what do you think? Can gaming be a cause of depression?