Doctor clarifies MMO addiction research

Psychologist says findings of Asperger's traits among hardcore Asheron's Call players have been overly simplified in recent reports.

Last week, the gaming news sites and blogs were saturated with reports of a study that found addicted online gamers displaying traits common among people with Asperger's syndrome. But as is common when in-depth scientific research is boiled down to an abstract, which is then adapted into a press release, which then serves as the basis for sensationalized reports written for an audience that has no explicit scientific interest, some of the finer details may have been lost along the way.

Dr. John Charlton.

GameSpot contacted the psychologist behind the study, the University of Bolton's Dr. John Charlton, to ask a few questions about those finer points. Charlton responded at length and in detail, specifically seeking to clear up a handful of misconceptions and bring up a number of relevant points that didn't survive the news cycle.

"The point about Asperger's was just that the relationships between addiction and the personality characteristics that we examined suggested that [massively multiplayer online role-playing games] might be addictive to people with Asperger's--and I tried to emphasize the 'might' to reporters--since the relationships between the addiction indices we used and the personality traits that we looked at suggested such a possibility," Charlton said.

Charlton looked at a variety of criteria to determine whether or not gamers counted as being addicted. He broke those down into two groups: peripheral criteria, which would be seen in highly engaged (but not necessarily addicted) gamers, and core criteria (a set of traits which should all be present to classify someone as addicted).

Highly engaged gamers will increasingly think about a game, spend more and more time playing it, and get a buzz or sense of excitement from it. Actually addicted gamers would have their lives dominated by a need to play, exhibit unpleasant physical or emotional withdrawal effects if they don't play, increasingly find themselves in conflict with others (or themselves) due to gaming, and be prone to relapsing into old play patterns despite attempts to stop.

In his research, Charlton notes that there is a fine line between the highly engaged and the addicted gamer. Other specific issues he wanted to clarify follow:

a) We didn't target people with Asperger's in our data collection (we collected data from Asheron's Call players in general).

b) We did not classify any of the participants as having Asperger's.

c) The point about Asperger's was just that the relationships between addiction and the personality characteristics that we examined suggested that [massively multiplayer online role-playing games] MIGHT be particularly addictive to people with Asperger's given the properties of both this type of game and the psychological characteristics of people with Asperger's.

d) It would be necessary to conduct specific studies to test whether people with Asperger's syndrome are overrepresented in the population of MMORPG players and whether they are more likely to be classifiable as addicted than other players.

e) In no way can it be said that Asperger's can be caused by game playing (Asperger's is thought to have a biological basis).

f) We are not saying that all people who might be classifiable as addicts have Asperger's.

Charlton and his coauthor Ian Danforth plan to submit their findings for journal publication, but they are still in the process of writing the paper.

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Discussion

98 comments
Santhin
Santhin

Awww, this wasn't sensationalist at all, I might have to turn back to CNN or something to hear someone declare that Mass Effect encourages kids to sleep together so that I can get my quota for ridiculous news for the day.

marriage0
marriage0

heh i love things like this that get blown entirely out of proportion....reminds me of a while ago when there was a murder which got associated with the game "manhunt" because it was found at the scene or something, and apparantly the murder was similar to an action you could preform in the game...what they failed to report was that the game belonged to the victim...

heaven_weapon
heaven_weapon

i got a fever and the only prescription is MORE MMO!!!!

Citan76
Citan76

WHOooWHAT???!! The media totally over sensationalized something and also just made stuff about it? That hardly ever happens. The media helped me avoid playing that morally decrepit sex simulator Mass Effect. I never thought they could steer me wrong.

PacoL250
PacoL250

Ah finally, a good clarification. Good job by GS News.

ma6ic
ma6ic

GAMESPOT DOES GOOD SCIENCE WRITING! (when it can) Thank you for the clarification.

drummerdude21
drummerdude21

Really now, Sumotaii... the same thing? Definitely not. You do know that people are playing online, not the "5 hour storyline." I know this isn't relevant to the subject, but don't compare playing Call of Duty to Call of Duty 4.

the_elements600
the_elements600

I have Asperger's Syndrome. It's something I've learn to live with over the years, and feel very few of it's negative effects now. I'm perfectly happy to socialise, and I feel perfectly at home with my friends. Hell, I wouldn't be me if I didn't have it. Does this mean I have a wild obsession with MMORPGs? Of course it doesnt. In fact, I dont play any MMORPGs at all. I prefer racting games, shoot-em ups and platformers, but I wouldnt call myself obsessed with video games.

kaiokenx100
kaiokenx100

PrimeLazarus probably has Asperger's Syndrome

PrimeLazarus
PrimeLazarus

@ markharris31 In actuality, this research isn't working towards a 'body of knowledge' that can be used to prove or disprove the hypothesis. There aren't any long-term conclusions that can be drawn outside the obvious that games are fun, that all people can become addicted, and that addiction with anything implies certain characteristics (whether biological, physiological, or psychological) that may or may not reinforce previous behavior based on some unrelated biological or psychological disorder. They were drawing conclusions based on two FUNDAMENTALLY different things. They studied the behavioral traits of game addicts and attempted to correlate them to behavioral traits of people with a biological disorder. You can claim research doesn't have to prove anything, that it can be an incremental process---but this isn't working towards any conclusion that would have been hidden otherwise: People that exhibit certain behaviors due to a biological disorder are difficult to correlate to other people that exhibit seemingly similar behavior because the REASON they exhibit those behaviors are COMPLETELY unrelated. However, the research seems to be making the point that patients with Asperger's have some similar behavioral patterns to that of addicted gamers; implying that people with Asperger's have an increased chance of video game addiction. Giving the benefit of the doubt and taking two steps back, similarities can be drawn at every turn between 'normal' people under the influence of any addiction and people who have biological disorders exhibiting similar behavior. That doesn't point to any correlation to video game addiction specifically; besides the fact that on the surface that some people under both categories share some similar behavior. "The point about Asperger's was just that the relationships between addiction and the personality characteristics that we examined suggested that [massively multiplayer online role-playing games] might be addictive to people with Asperger's" Really? So they are telling us that they studied game addicts behavior to find out that similar behavior between addicted gamers and people with Asperger's might point to an increased chance of said Asperger's patient becoming addicted to games, nevermind the fact everyone knows that games are fun and engaging. Heck, the MMOs are designed to be addicting. Again, this isn't science--it's sensationalism. I can tell you without any research that people with Asperger's might like to drink alcohol for the same reasons everyone else likes to drink alcohol. Maybe more so since I'm sure alcohol addicts exhibit some similar behavior to some people with Asperger's. Again, maybe not all the time, but in some cases. In other words: I could research all day and find that the reasons your average game addict loves to play Sonic are the SAME reasons a 4 year old likes to play Sonic. Maybe not in all cases but for the majority of subjects-- that would seem like a fair correlation. So we could then conclude that addicted gamers share some behavioral traits of your average four year old. That doesn't point to any type of connection between the two besides the fact that games can be interactive, fun, and fairly addicting no matter your age, sex, race, psychological or physiological state. I have a friend in his 30s who will still huff and puff like you wouldn't beleive losing a game of Madden. I have a 6 year old neighbor who does the same thing. The correlation: people act out based on many different factors while exhibiting similar behavior. The 6 year old acts out because well, he's six. The 30 year old acts out because he hates to lose, and because he has a little 6 year old inside trying to get out. The correlation ends there, not because it isn't backed up by similarities--because it is-- but because the causes or implications of such behavior are either completely unrelated, obvious, or otherwise moot. After all, we are all human. My point: We all have a little Asperger's in all of us, trying to get out. Games might reinforce certain behaviors of people with Asperger's leading to an increased chance of addiction among people with Asperger's but the same could be said about fast cars with people who like to go fast. All the behaviors might be there, but not all people who like to go fast actually gets a fast car for a motley of reasons. So it would be inconclusive to say that people with Asperger's are any more likely than anyone else to become addicted to games. Gamers, all people with biological or psychological disorders, scientists, researchers--we all share common traits and behaviors. "We didn't target people with Asperger's in our data collection (we collected data from Asheron's Call players in general)." "We did not classify any of the participants as having Asperger's." "It would be necessary to conduct specific studies to test whether people with Asperger's syndrome are overrepresented in the population of MMORPG players and whether they are more likely to be classifiable as addicted than other players." I'm giving the researchers credit for establishing a hypothesis stating that people with Asperger's may have an increased chance of video game addiction based on their results identifying similar behaviors between game addicts and people with Asperger's; however they fail to honor the scientific method by testing their hypothesis. Why should these guys get published with nonexistent relevant test data?

lyk3
lyk3

At one point, I was addicted to Diablo II, is Asperger's trait applies to me?

lew_0911
lew_0911

It's always stormy at the science scene, especially when the media comes in...

Jazzism
Jazzism

'Still writing the paper' = vapourware What can we say other than the media boned the original source of information and reported inaccuracies... Just another day at Gamespot, at least it seems they did read some of the information source this time.

markharris31
markharris31

Don't bash the study, people, bash those who take it out of context. On the whole "studies should only prove or disprove" something... you clearly have never done any research. Yes, there are times when one good experiment can effectively "prove" something, but it is way more common for a series of studies to incrementally gather more information and create a cohesive body of knowledge that is used to "prove" or "disprove" a hypothesis. Besides, this is psychology, which is notoriously hard to quantify, making it even harder to concretely rule out any other possibilities and say that A causes B.

markharris31
markharris31

Don't bash the study, people, bash those who take it out of context. On the whole "studies should only prove or disprove" something idea... you clearly have never done any research. Yes, there are times when one good experiment can effectively "prove" something, but it is way more common for a series of studies to incrementally gather more information and create a cohesive body of knowledge that is used to "prove" or "disprove" a hypothesis. Besides, this is psychology, which is notoriously hard to quantify, making it even harder to concretely rule out any other possibilities and say that A causes B.

Quezakolt
Quezakolt

e) In no way can it be said that Asperger's can be caused by game playing (Asperger's is thought to have a biological basis). there you go.

KingSigy
KingSigy

MMO addiction is a serious case, as I developed depression a few years back out of my WoW addiction. I let it get the best of me and lost many close friends because of it. I'm glad to see that doctors are finally taking a stand to help people so tragedies won't happen in their life.

Icky27
Icky27

AC 1 was a great game. Thank you Microsoft for ruining AC 2

Agulf
Agulf

By the definition, I'm still only in the "highly engaged" criteria. But I have experienced withdrawal syndromes after playing a really good game.

Agulf
Agulf

By the definition, I'm still only in the "highly engaged" criteria. But I have experienced withdrawal sympathoms after playing a really good game.

im-a-roustabout
im-a-roustabout

x-wing20 I always thought the addiction to mmorpgs was because of the need to get the most of your monthly fee. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Now THAT was funny!!!! Best answer ever :)

Sumotaii
Sumotaii

So people who sit around all day playing rock band, guitar hero is ok? Why not pick up the real thing and learn and not be lazy? So people who sit around all day paying 50 bucks a year for a crappy xbox live service to play a 5 hour storyline game for 60 bucks called call of duty 4 is ok to? Even though i got call of duty 1 for the pc and there all the same dam thing. Please you can throw this anyway you want. I play 2d fighters alot, i play starcraft alot to. If your a gamer no matter what you game, you semi have an addiction to it.

gokuofheaven
gokuofheaven

Bottom line is, anyone who sits around playing mmorpg's all day seriously need to get a life. If you think you have a problem or don't ...there is something else going on outside that door to your room, seriously...try opening it...

Mauller
Mauller

I wish Microsoft hadn't ruined Asherons Call 2. Turbine couldn't bring it back from the damage they'd done. I miss it :(

speed45823
speed45823

thats the whole science thing. Always doubtful. Anyway, why the **** does this guy even bother on researching this. Deesnt he got something better to do like rethink his life?

bundas
bundas

melante, don't be an ignoramus. tell me, what experience have you got in the interpretation of study results? maybe the result (p-value) was bordering on the edge of statistical significance. maybe the study was underpowered. there is a huge variety of outcomes for medical studies and factors that can influence these outcomes, so think before typing inane and mindless comments relating to a field which you clearly can't relate to.

melante
melante

A scientific paper whose conclusion is that something *might* be coonected to something else is crap. It should *prove* it is or it is not.

melante
melante

A scientific paper whose conclusion is that something *might* be connected to something else is crap. It should *prove* it is or it is not.

Ryd3lUK
Ryd3lUK

i agree with diablobasher, i play WoW quite abit, and i really enjoy it, its not because i enjoy the content (and i do), but its because i enjoy socialising with the people i play with.

Myugenjin
Myugenjin

I was diagnosed with Aspergers at 8 months old and at 2 years old by diff doctors, & later in life with anti-social personality disorder (aka sociopathology) I feel its safe to say that something as simple as vg addiction can and should be attributed to MANY conditions in which is where the complexity for treatment begins.

earthnuggets
earthnuggets

Holy crap, I just read the Wikipedia article about Asperger's and I THINK I HAVE IT! GO GO GADGET INTERNET SELF-DIAGNOSIS!!!

diablobasher
diablobasher

So you wont pay ten bucks a month for endless hours of entertainment, but you'll pay to kill yourself and others around you? Nice one...

marc5477
marc5477

Yet another made up disease that they will want to treat and sell drugs for. Luckily most people realize that psychology is 95% BS anyway so who cares about some shmo with yet another doctored statistic? I certainly dont.

ZedFragg
ZedFragg

Having Asperger's myself I find I'm more addicted to nicotin than MMORPG's... Don't get me wrong I enjoy a good MMORPG but...I ain't paying that monthly fee I mean I got bills to pay so Cigs come first...

KBABZ
KBABZ

Really glad to see this, 'specially considering I'm an Aspie. It takes the media to conveniently leave out details and completely sensationalize a news report. Now, back to my LEGO Star Wars marathon...

Lumenadducere
Lumenadducere

Wow, that's good that they actually got some clarification. Good job GS.

x-wing20
x-wing20

I always thought the addiction to mmorpgs was because of the need to get the most of your monthly fee.

McDog3
McDog3

Well i'm glad this otherwise useless study (like I said before) is explained more thoroughly now. I'm glad to see the Dr. actually try and clarify misconceptions from news articles, that doesn't happen enough....

DuaneDog
DuaneDog

I think that MMORPG lead to addiction because the ties and online relationships you develop become integral to the experience. WoW for example isn't steller at plot and 'telling' a story. Most players just read the quest to find out what to do and the plight of the world itself is secondary. But that is not necessarily bad. WoW is a character driven plot. Just like in many great movies the actual plot is secondary to character development. What makes WoW special is that by the time you are to level 60 you have experienced so much and met so many different people; you've died, be resurected, traveled dungeons, had professions, etc. And unless you are using a leveling guide it will take weeks if not months to reach level 70. It's totally addictive when you get in the right guild and the right team mates to quest with. It's a boring, lonely game if you are disconnected and don't have any friends, guild mates, or friends... just like in real life, WoW is what you make of it and the friendships and relationships that it creates. I'd also say that the gameplay is often taken for granted and the difference in classes, talents, races and how they play stacks up against any RPG.

DuaneDog
DuaneDog

I think that MMORPG lead to addiction because the ties and online relationships you develop become integral to the experience. WoW for example isn't steller at plot and 'telling' a story. Most players just read the quest to find out what to do and the plight of the world itself is secondary. But that is not necessarily bad. WoW is a character driven plot. Just like in many great movies the actual plot is secondary to character development. What makes WoW special is that by the time you are to level 60 you have experienced so much and met so many different people; you've died, be resurected, traveled dungeons, had professions, etc. And unless you are using a leveling guide it will take weeks if not months to reach level 70. It's totally addictive when you get in the right guild and the right team mates to quest with. It's a boring, lonely game if you are disconnected and don't have any friends, guild mates, or friends... just like in real life, WoW is what you make of it and the friendships and relationships that it creates. I'd also say that the gameplay is often taken for granted and the difference in classes, talents, races and how they play stacks up against any RPG. There is a reason why MMORPG are catching on and I think that those who are saying it takes away from solo RPG's are missing the roots of the genre. D&D was about friends getting together and questing together. Computers came along and detached people from that group experience and made it a solo game in which the computer was the 'party' you played with. MMORPG is bringing some of that group and friends (real people) questing together, back to the genere of RPG's as they were, old school. If you get on the WoW Role Playing servers you can really get that feel as people try to remain in character and use their creativity to intertwine WoW lore and questing as part of the gaming experience.

Pete5506
Pete5506

Wow good to see some facts

pause422
pause422

The more and more people that just decide to up and stop playing them for good the better,Age of Conan looks great and i'd say definately worth checking out when it comes out,but people need to quit with the "never play another game for 5 years cuz i'm playing one mmo and I got 300 days in game played!" seriously,it isn't no addiction and the more people that stop,the better off they'll be.

zero-master
zero-master

Its nice to see an articale that states the facts flat out for every one to see straight up. Thank you gamespot!

Darkstar_Sinada
Darkstar_Sinada

Hrm, after looking at the differences between "Highly Engaged" and "Addicted", I'm glad to know that I've never even been close to the addicted stage. This research just shows that it's perfectly normally to get real pumped about a game and play it a lot when it comes out, during most of your free-time. As long as you continue to function normal and have other priorities that you maintain, that is.

dn3datomiced
dn3datomiced

It's not a matter of Asperger's people being drawn to MMOs versus other games, but rather more that the population of the game is made up of a greater portion of people who potentially exhibit characteristics of Asperger's. People are taking this article entirely wrong.

zackarkywar
zackarkywar

lol I dunno if its just me.. but after playing so many damned mmos... ya kinda get bored of it and move on and start playing less and less... but then again we got them WoW'ers lol

EE2lemmonhead
EE2lemmonhead

well what he said about addiction vs highly engaged is nice. my dad says im addicted to games and now i can prove him wrong(havent played any more then an hour in the past 2 weeks and i feel quite fine)

infect999
infect999

i wasnt even aware that asheron's call was still up-and-running seriously people, use some more up-to-date games for your research

skulleton1
skulleton1

It seems as though this has become the unofficial "Aspbergers" thread