A recent study indicates that highly engaged gamers do not necessarily exhibit problematic gaming behavior or unhealthy nutritional habits despite spending a considerable amount of time on screens. The findings have been published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.
The researchers conducted this study to investigate the multifaceted impact of the rapidly expanding video game industry on individuals’ lives. With over two billion people estimated to be playing video games worldwide, and concerns arising about problematic gaming behaviors leading to potential addiction, there was a need to delve deeper into this phenomenon.
The study sought to characterize highly engaged gamers, going beyond their gaming habits to explore their mental health, physical activity, dietary patterns, sleep quality, and more. Additionally, the research aimed to address the controversial diagnosis of Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD) and differentiate between highly engaged gamers who do not experience adverse effects and those with problematic gaming behavior.
“My interest began in my childhood as a gamer,” said study co-author Joana Cardoso, a clinical psychologist and PhD candidate at the University of Maia. “As I progressed through life, pursuing my master’s degree in clinical psychology, I started researching this topic and discovered that there was so much work to do and much more to learn. This ultimately led me to my current role as a PhD candidate, specializing in the study of gaming addiction.”
The study involved 270 Portuguese individuals, aged 18 to 60, and who had played video games for at least 7 hours per week in the past month. The participants answered questionnaires related to various aspects of their lives, including gaming habits, mental health, physical activity, sleep patterns, and dietary habits.
Most participants reported spending between 0 and 4 hours per day playing video games. The researchers noted that these findings were consistent with previous research on highly engaged gamers, dispelling the notion that they spend excessive amounts of time gaming.
Despite their gaming habits, many participants reported engaging in physical activity. Common activities included team sports, resistance training, individual sports, and combat sports. This contradicted some previous research that suggested a negative association between gaming and physical activity. The participants also displayed healthy eating habits during gaming sessions. Few reported consuming energy drinks or ultra-processed snacks while gaming.
“Gaming can be a hobby and not all players are addicted to it,” Cardoso and co-author Catarina Matias told PsyPost in a joint statement. “Also, much is said and assumed about gamers’ habits regarding sleep, snacking intake and physical activity patterns. Most of those assumptions are not true, at least for Portuguese gamers, as you can verify in this study. So, especially considering that our study focuses on highly engaged players, a very simple message to take home is: players seem to lead a healthy and balanced lifestyle.”
Only a small percentage of participants (1.28%) scored above the cutoff point for IGD, indicating that the majority did not exhibit signs of gaming addiction.
The researchers said they were surprised to observe “how low the prevalence of addiction was. We were expecting more. But most of our participants were non-addictive with a balanced life between gaming and physical activity practice.”
However, approximately half of the participants displayed poor psychological well-being, as indicated by the Scales of Psychological Well-being. Additionally, despite their relatively short gaming sessions, the participants had poor sleep quality. The researchers explained that this might be due to factors such as prioritizing gaming over sleep, exposure to screen light, mental health issues, dietary habits, and physical activity.
A significant proportion of participants (60.4%) reported drinking coffee, with some consuming up to four cups daily. Given the substantial caffeine intake, the timing of caffeine consumption could be a significant factor affecting sleep patterns.
These findings suggest a need for further investigation into the complex relationships between gaming, lifestyle choices, and mental health among highly engaged gamers.
“There is a lot more to work on,” Cardoso and Matias said. “Mainly to understand some mental issues that we couldn’t explain. Plus, this is a newer topic, so there is a lot more to uncover and we have a lot of ideas!”
The study, “Game on: A cross-sectional study on gamers’ mental health, Game patterns, physical activity, eating and sleeping habits“, was authored by Catarina N. Matias, Joana Cardoso, Margarida L. Cavaca, Sofia Cardoso, Rita Giro a, João Vaz, Pedro A. Couto, Artemisa Rocha Dores, Tiago B. Ferreira, G.M. Tinsley, and Filipe J. Teixeira.