Based on their analysis of Internet gaming disorder (IGD) criteria, Kuss, Griffiths, and Pontes (2017) come to the conclusion that the current situation can be described as “chaos and confusion.” Their assessment is not an exaggeration. It can be argued that there are even more issues, on logical/definitional and political/social levels: (a) the IGD diagnosis is lacking a well-defined object, (b) the cause and effect cannot be differentiated outside lab conditions, (c) the social and political effects of declaring a social behavior as a disease are worrying, and (d) a rushed diagnosis may construct an addiction with potentially harmful effects on (formerly) healthy populations. Instead of closing the debate by declaring a consensus and codifying IGD in the DSM, an undogmatic, intensified, and broader discussion is needed.
There is a considerable amount of research on the psychological antecedents and outcomes of gaming disorder. Although many studies have examined various personality traits or motivations as predictors in isolation, fewer studies have investigated the mediations between personality traits and motivations. Furthermore, the analyzed personality traits have been limited to a few core concepts, with the Big Five personality traits being a standard model in this context. However, more recently the dark triad of personality traits (Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy) has been found to be associated with various forms of problematic online behavior and usage, such as online gambling, yet little is known about gaming disorder. The current study examines the relationship of these dark personality traits to gaming disorder with three gaming motivations (achievement, social, and escapism) as mediators.
The study uses an online survey of 1,502 German digital game users.
Results indicate a fully mediated association for narcissism via escapism and partial mediation associations for Machiavellianism and psychopathy. Direct effects on gaming disorder were observed for Machiavellianism and psychopathy. Indirect effects by psychopathy were observed via escapism and social motivation, by narcissism via escapism, and by Machiavellianism via social motivation.
Discussion and conclusions
These findings contribute to the theoretical understanding of the mediation of gaming motivations and the dark triad personality traits' importance for gaming disorder.
Concerns about problematic gaming behaviors deserve our full attention. However, we claim that it is far from clear that these problems can or should be attributed to a new disorder. The empirical basis for a Gaming Disorder proposal, such as in the new ICD-11, suffers from fundamental issues. Our main concerns are the low quality of the research base, the fact that the current operationalization leans too heavily on substance use and gambling criteria, and the lack of consensus on symptomatology and assessment of problematic gaming. The act of formalizing this disorder, even as a proposal, has negative medical, scientific, public-health, societal, and human rights fallout that should be considered. Of particular concern are moral panics around the harm of video gaming. They might result in premature application of diagnosis in the medical community and the treatment of abundant false-positive cases, especially for children and adolescents. Second, research will be locked into a confirmatory approach, rather than an exploration of the boundaries of normal versus pathological. Third, the healthy majority of gamers will be affected negatively. We expect that the premature inclusion of Gaming Disorder as a diagnosis in ICD-11 will cause significant stigma to the millions of children who play video games as a part of a normal, healthy life. At this point, suggesting formal diagnoses and categories is premature: the ICD-11 proposal for Gaming Disorder should be removed to avoid a waste of public health resources as well as to avoid causing harm to healthy video gamers around the world.
We greatly appreciate the care and thought that is evident in the 10 commentaries that discuss our debate paper, the majority of which argued in favor of a formalized ICD-11 gaming disorder. We agree that there are some people whose play of video games is related to life problems. We believe that understanding this population and the nature and severity of the problems they experience should be a focus area for future research. However, moving from research construct to formal disorder requires a much stronger evidence base than we currently have. The burden of evidence and the clinical utility should be extremely high, because there is a genuine risk of abuse of diagnoses. We provide suggestions about the level of evidence that might be required: transparent and preregistered studies, a better demarcation of the subject area that includes a rationale for focusing on gaming particularly versus a more general behavioral addictions concept, the exploration of non-addiction approaches, and the unbiased exploration of clinical approaches that treat potentially underlying issues, such as depressive mood or social anxiety first. We acknowledge there could be benefits to formalizing gaming disorder, many of which were highlighted by colleagues in their commentaries, but we think they do not yet outweigh the wider societal and public health risks involved. Given the gravity of diagnostic classification and its wider societal impact, we urge our colleagues at the WHO to err on the side of caution for now and postpone the formalization.