Understanding professional gaming, gaming disorder, and functional impairments

In a previous study, we initiated a line of inquiry into the complex association between functional gaming-related functional impairments in individuals potentially experiencing Gaming Disorder (GD). This initial study found that the areas mostly affected by functional impairments were ‘school and/or work’, followed by ‘psychological health’, and ‘family’-related functional impairments. Interestingly, it also found that the least affected area related to ‘friends’.

Following this initial investigation, we have conducted a follow-up study narrowing the scope of the analysis. In our most recent follow-up study published in the journal Scientific Reports, we provided a glimpse on the challenges faced by Professional Gamers (PGs) compared to their Non-Professional Gamers (NPGs). We analyzed a sample of 5,198 English-speaking gamers to help us understand the prevalence of GD and associated functional impairments within these communities.

The phenomenon of GD, officially recognized by the World Health Organization, refers to a pattern of gaming behavior characterized by impaired control, prioritization of gaming over other interests, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite negative consequences. Our findings revealed that PGs exhibited a significantly higher risk for GD—with prevalence rates almost double those of NPGs. This elevated risk is mirrored by an increased symptom-load and more hours spent gaming weekly among PGs.

When asked if they had experienced a significant problem due to gaming, PGs reported experiencing more problems compared to NPGs. While the single most predominant area of life affected by gaming-related functional impairments reported by both groups was ‘school and/work’, the second most prevalent for PGs was ‘family’ while for NPGs it was ‘physical health’. Interestingly, the third most predominant area of life affected among PGs was ‘physical health’ while for NPGs it was ‘family’. In relation to other variables of interest examined in our study, PGs showed higher levels of functional impairments compared to NPG only in relation to overall ‘psychiatric distress’ and severity of ‘insomnia’ with no meaningful differences emerging in relation to ‘loneliness’, ‘attention problems’, and severity of ‘headache experiences’.

The study findings support a holistic approach to GD diagnosis, considering functional impairments as a crucial factor. For clinicians and health professionals, understanding the specific areas of life affected by GD can enhance treatment efforts, ultimately improving the quality of life for those impacted.

In the realm of competitive esports, where the line between passion and compulsion can blur, the insights generate by our study not only contribute to our understanding of GD but also emphasize the critical role of industry-led initiatives in safeguarding the wellbeing of gamers. As we move forward, collaboration between researchers, health professionals, and industry stakeholders will be key in developing comprehensive strategies to address the challenges highlighted by this study.

Let us continue this conversation and work together towards a healthier gaming community. Follow me on social media for real-time updates and discussions on the future of gaming and mental health. Together, we can navigate the challenges and opportunities presented by the digital age, ensuring that gaming remains a source of joy and innovation, not distress.

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Dr. Halley Pontes
Dr. Halley Pontes
Senior Lecturer in Psychology

My research interests include addictive behaviors, psychometrics, and cyberpsychology.