A topic with ever-growing concern in the UK is that of gaming addiction. A 2021 systematic review revealed that 3-4% of gamers worldwide were addicted to video games, meaning that there can be as many as 60 million people or more suffering.
In fact, this year the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially classified Video Game Addiction as a mental health disorder. The diagnosis is categorised by a person’s lack of control over the desire to play video games, they prioritise gaming over other interests and obligations and they continue to game despite negative side effects.
Our experts have compiled an in-depth analysis of gaming addiction across various age groups in the UK and they have also uncovered the most addictive titles and genres. With games of all natures becoming accessible to even younger audiences, it is more important than ever to be aware of the symptoms and treatments available.
Taking a seed list of the top 50 most popular video games, our findings have revealed which are considered the most addictive based on player reviews. Using the platform Metacritic, we have analysed how many times the term ‘addictive’ was used for each video game.
The data revealed that the online game ‘Rocket League’ was the most addictive, with 14.53% of reviews containing the term. The vehicular soccer game was only released in 2015 and is highly addictive due to its fast-paced action and its replayability value characteristics.
‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ was number 13 on the list, with 1.58% of ‘addictive’ reviews. Released on 20th March 2020, when the world was deep in lockdown, the life simulation game provided a unique opportunity for players to interact with family and friends within the game and also mimic real life as much as possible, which is a highly addictive feature.
‘The Sims 4’, a strategic life simulation video game, had 0.97% reviews with the term ‘addictive’. This left it in 19th place, trailing behind the MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) and MOBAs (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) – suggesting that one of the most addictive elements of the leading games is the social, multiplayer aspects of them. ‘The Sims’ games are slow-paced and require patience, whereas the MOBA games are exhilarating, fast-paced and fuelled by adrenaline.
“Gaming addiction refers to the uncontrollable use of video games that is characterised by compulsive behaviour and can develop after a long period of excessive gaming.
“When a person who enjoys playing video games engages in the activity, the brain’s reward centre releases dopamine chemicals in response to the pleasurable experience and so they will often go back, again and again, to seek out the dopamine release.
“People can often develop an addiction to games like Rocket League because they are designed to be naturally addictive by creators who incorporate small “wins” into the game that keep you coming back for more, including high scores and completing levels.”
From analysing the different gaming genres, our research discovered that Social Simulation games are considered to be the most addictive, with 5.08% of reviews containing the word ‘addictive’.
The Sims and Animal Crossing fall into the category of Social Simulation – the term refers to games that focus on communication between multiple artificial lives. These are often open-ended games, which provide players with the freedom and control to do what they would rarely or never be able to achieve in real life, which is a highly addictive feature.
Next up wasMOBA, which had 3.58% reviews stating the term ‘addictive’. Competitive and fast-paced, this genre scored even higher than MMORPGs – which racked up 0.82% of “addictive” reviews and came sixth on the list.
First Person Shooter (0.75%) and Tactical Shooter (0.55%) came in at number seven and eight, respectively. When players shoot another during a game, their bodies release dopamine and serotonin, which will often cause them to take pleasure from the act.
While gaming is often considered less harmful than other addictive substances like alcohol and drugs, it can often be harder to recognise when you or a loved one might have a problem. So what questions are we asking the most when it comes to gaming addiction?
Using Google Search Volume data, we have uncovered the most commonly searched questions about gaming addiction and asked our team of experts to weigh in.
With a total number of 2,100 searches a month, the most Googled question about gaming addiction was ‘Why Are Video Games So Addictive?’
There are many aspects of video games that can cause dependency, Martin Preston, Founder and Chief Executive at Delamere, explains how;
“One of the most addictive features of games is that many do not have pre-defined ends – this is most common in MMORPG games. What this means, is that the player does not get to a point where they have ‘completed’ every challenge or task, which brings the game to a natural end and allows them to move on. Instead, they are presented with continual challenges and tasks to overcome that keep them coming back again and again.
“High scores, are another feature within games that make them so addictive. Gamers will often try to beat their own high score or try to beat a competitor, which can keep them engrossed for hours. The competitive nature of these games makes them extremely addictive for users.
“Another addictive element is the social aspect of online games. While we were plunged deep into lockdown, ‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ was released. A Life Simulation Game, that allowed people to complete everyday tasks, such as shopping and gardening, from their own homes. It even allowed people to connect socially, by visiting each other’s islands. Normality was something we were uncertain about and, despite the fact the lockdown has been lifted, many people may feel more comfortable remaining in their gaming bubble.
In second place was ‘How to Break a Child’s Video Game Addiction?’, with 860 searches in a month. The high search volume for this enquiry is unsurprising as in 2020, it was said that 8% of children and teenagers were addicted to gaming in the UK.
“There are many ways that a child’s gaming addiction can be treated and prevented. One of the most effective methods is setting a timer for your child to play their chosen game. Once the timer has gone off, they have to turn off the computer and move on to a different activity – allowing them to still enjoy their game in moderation.
“Setting a rule that your child only plays games with friends would remove the isolation aspect of gaming addiction. Suggesting a gaming party, rather than a long solo session, would allow your child to improve their teamwork and communication skills – offering a healthier environment for your little one to indulge in their hobby.”
Other frequently asked questions included “What is Computer Gaming Addiction” (510 searches per month) and ‘How to Cure my Video Game Addiction’ (280 searches in a month). The latter highlighting that people could be seeking advice from the internet, rather than going to a healthcare professional, due to the level of shame surrounding video game addiction – especially due to the fact that many people consider it to be a harmless hobby.
“In short, there is no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to addiction recovery, as different methods will work better for different people. It all rests on the level of dependency, how long it has been going on for, and just how much the addiction has been able to take hold.
“Here at Delamere, we take a holistic approach to gaming addiction that looks at all aspects of a person’s life that could be contributing to their addictive behaviour. Once this has been identified and treated through cognitive behavioural therapy sessions, it is then important that healthier coping mechanisms are put in place to help prevent relapse.”
With so many surprising factors affecting gaming addiction, does age come into it as well? After analysing five different age groups, we were able to determine that certain demographics were more likely to suffer from this disorder than others.
Our data highlighted that 25-34-year-olds were the most susceptible, with 147,577 estimated to suffer from gaming addiction within this age demographic. Meanwhile, the 16-24 age group have an estimated 129,980 suffering from the addiction.
35-44-year-olds had an estimated 129,134 addicted gamers, which is very similar to that of 16-24-year-olds.
“Interestingly, despite presumably having very different lifestyles, the three top-ranked demographics had very similar numbers of addicted gamers. This highlights the fact that, despite what society may assume, younger people are not more susceptible to becoming addicted to gaming than older people are.
“25-34-year-olds would have more financial freedom, making it easier for them to buy the latest games, consoles and upgrades, while 16-24-year-olds may have to rely on somebody else to make extravagant purchases for them.”
After establishing that many children are becoming addicted to gaming, are there particular games that are more hazardous than others? Our research analysed the reviews for the most popular video games aimed at children aged 12 and under, with the words ‘addictive’.
At the top of the list was the ever-present ‘Rocket League’, with 14.53% of reviews with the term ‘addictive’ mentioned.
‘Stardew Valley’, a Simulation Role Playing Game, came in at third place with a score of 6.67%, making ‘Rocket League’ almost twice as addictive, according to our findings. Similar to ‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’, this game offers the chance to grow vegetables, build a farm, and even date people from the town, making it an ideal game for escapism. ‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’, however, was placed at number 16, with a ranking of 1.58%.
The increasingly popular online game ‘Among Us’ was in last place at number 20, with a ranking of 0.96%. Classed as an Online Multiplayer Social Deduction game, based on deceiving your peers. It can be played with strangers or friends, and offers a chatroom dynamic.#
“Like adults, children enjoy having the ability, knowledge and skill to do something successfully, as well as having the autonomy to figure out how to complete challenges on their own.
“Video games provide the perfect opportunity for children to experience both, by completing tasks and making their own decisions that will help them progress onto the next level. As more challenges are completed without help, the desire to want to continue gaming grows.
“The feeling of pleasure that comes with completing these challenges is caused by the chemical dopamine in the brain. Dopamine plays a huge role in people becoming addicted to gaming, so just like how you wouldn’t let your children eat huge amounts of sweets because it makes them feel good, it is important that time spent gaming is limited so that the feeling of pleasure that is experienced when gaming is also limited.”
Taking a seed list of 50 popular video games, we analysed reviews from Metacritic to reveal what percentage of reviews per game mentioned the word ‘addictive’.
Taking a seed list of 10 different genres across 50 popular video games, we analysed reviews for each game on Metacritic to find which genres mentioned the word ‘addictive’ the most.
Using monthly search volume data from the SEO tool Semrush, we discovered what questions surrounding gaming addiction are most commonly searched around the world.
We used population data from ONS and gaming by demographic percentages from Statista to calculate the predicted number of gamers who may be addicted based on a recent figure from the World Health Organisation that says 1-3% of gamers could be at risk of addiction.
Taking a seed list of 50 popular children’s games rated Pegi 12 or below, we analysed reviews from Metacritic to reveal what percentage of reviews mentioned the word ‘addictive’.
Sally is a Recovery Mentor at Delamere. Sally lives and breathes recovery, and brings a huge amount of energy and passion to both her 1-1, and group work at Delamere.
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