Video game playing may negatively impact youth. However, the existing literature on gaming is inconsistent and often has focused on aggression rather than the health correlates of gaming and the prevalence and correlates of problematic gaming.
We anonymously surveyed 4028 adolescents about gaming and reported problems with gaming and other health behaviors. A total of 51.2% of the sample reported gaming (76.3% of boys and 29.2% of girls).
There were no negative health correlates of gaming in boys and lower odds of smoking regularly; however, girls who reported gaming were less likely to report depression and more likely to report getting into serious fights and carrying a weapon to school. Among gamers, 4.9% reported problematic gaming, defined as reporting trying to cut back, experiencing an irresistible urge to play, and experiencing a growing tension that could only be relieved by playing. Boys were more likely to report these problems (5.8%) than girls (3.0%). Correlates of problematic gaming included regular cigarette smoking, drug use, depression, and serious fights. Results suggest that gaming is largely normative in boys and not associated with many health factors. In girls, however, gaming seems to be associated with more externalizing behaviors and fewer internalizing symptoms.
The prevalence of problematic gaming is low but not insignificant, and problematic gaming may be contained within a larger spectrum of externalizing behaviors. More research is needed to define safe levels of gaming, refine the definition of problematic gaming, and evaluate effective prevention and intervention strategies.