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Gamer Addiction: A Threat To Student Success! What Advisors Need To Know
By Lee Kem

A 19 year old freshman male walks into your office looking disheveled, lacking personal hygiene, with red eyes, and has lost weight. The student avoids eye contact, seems uncomfortable, angry, and anxious to leave your office. The academic report on your desk shows that he is frequently absent, falls asleep in class, and his assignments are late or nonexistent. During the interview, you learn the student has few friends, procrastinates, isolates himself in his room, has carpel tunnel syndrome, eats irregularly, sleeps two hours each night, has migraines and backaches.
A 40 year old senior female wants help studying for the GRE exam she is taking - tomorrow. Procrastination is a pattern with this student. Although her GPA and ACT are high, she admits to exhaustion because she sleeps two or three hours each night and lives on chocolate and caffeine. Assignments are turned in on time but only after pulling several 'all nighters.'
What do these two students have in common? Insights garnered from answers to your questions lead you to believe that the source of both problems is overuse of the internet and the playing of computer or video games: Gamer Addiction.
Gamer Addiction is an obsession with video game playing that usually begins in elementary and middle school. By college, the individual progresses from simple to elaborate games and the student is game-hooked. An activity becomes an addiction when it is used to change an individual's mood. It becomes abuse when it interferes with 'one's work or school, or disrupts personal or family relationships, and becomes increasingly necessary to feel good' (Orzack, 2005a, p. 1).
Addiction takes away from life and reduces motivation to do anything beyond the focus of the addiction (IGDA panel). Niolosi (2002) found that video games are part of the daily routine for 65% of American girls and 85% of American boys. NBC News ( 5-19-05 ) reported that one in eight gamers develops patterns similar to other types of addiction and abuse. Tournemillie (2002) noted that a survey of 1500 teenagers indicated 25% were compulsive video gamers. Fifty per cent of those surveyed used the word 'addiction' to describe a friend's gaming behaviors.
Today's video games are available in a plethora of venues that draw individuals into the world of the game. Games are designed to keep the player riveted to action. Players experience a sense of control when they enter into the fantasy world of speed, realism, violence, new morals, and interoperability. Many games offer on-line anonymous interaction with other people; a 'hook' is a sense of family or belonging in the form of a pseudo persona the player develops when repeatedly playing the game. The longer the game is played, the more the pseudo persona can replace reality.

It is important to understand that Gamer Addiction has the basic identifying characteristics of all addictions. These tend to be progressive and cyclic.

Intense pleasure/guilt

  • More pleasure derived from playing video games than anything else

  • Sense of well-being or euphoria while playing   
  • Guilt because of the amount of time spent playing the games and the lack of attention to other issues
  • When not engaging in the activity, individual constantly thinks about the activity; gaming controls the thoughts

  • Craves more and more time with activity
  • Neglects everything to play the video games: studies, work, hygiene, sleep, relationships, food, family and friends
  • Denies and lies about the amount of time devoted to playing and expenses involved
  • Will lie to protect source of pleasure and good feelings
  • Angry when something/someone interferes with activity
  • Feels empty, depressed, irritable when not at computer or gaming
Unable to Control
  • Engages in game playing after deciding not to do so; decides to play one hour; plays three, four, or all night

  • Compulsively keeps investing time and money
  • Money spent on addiction before paying for food/rent/etc.
  • Will go in debt to pursue and engage in addiction
  • A high followed by a low; cure is to play again and regain the high A deeper low follows and the cycle is repeated


Symptoms: The two major indicators of Gamer Addiction are withdrawl and isolation. The common thread in addiction is an emotional dysregulation. Individuals are often depressed, lonely, angry, shy, afraid to go out, in a high family conflict situation, and have low self-esteem. This affects significant relationships with roommates, fellow students, parents, friends, faculty, and advisors. Players can have difficulty separating the game or fantasy world and reality. The compulsive playing tends to cover these underlying psychological problems (Cromie, 1999).

 Nicolosi (2002) found that 65% of girls and 85% of boys are game players and one in eight gamers develops patterns of addiction. In a college/university with 10,000 students, that would mean that 960 students are addicted. For many students, choosing gaming over academics has become the norm. Students stay up too late or all night, miss class, skip assignments, and if confronted, can exhibit belligerent behavior with instructors/advisors. Orzack (2005b) noted that 'Many counselors and deans of students report an increased association between inappropriate and excessive computer use and rule infractions, relationship problems, and academic difficulties (p. 1).'
Game playing often begins from boredom; the excitement becomes the reward. This behavior is reinforced on an intermittent reinforcement schedule - the most powerful type of reinforcer. The college classroom comes into direct competition with the daily reinforcement from the video games. Playing provides an alternate reality in which problems are solved and success and reward is possible. When life seems out of control, the game provides a sense of control. If life becomes difficult or stressful, the game will provide an avenue of escape from responsibility and reality.

Gamer Addiction - also referred to as Stimulus Addiction, Narcissistic Self-Stimulation or Feelings Management Technology (Meunier, 2003) - is a very complex issue and requires professional psychological treatment. The lines between work/play/school have become unclear and vague. The student needs professional help to develop adequate coping skills and address underlying issues hidden by Gamer Addiction.
In the academic environment, the responsibility for dealing with Gamer Addiction falls in three separate but overlapping functional areas. Individuals within these groups must coordinate, cooperate, and communicate effectively to ensure success in reducing Gamer Addiction:

Function Responsibility

1) Identification of potential gamer addicts

Academic advisors, counselors and faculty members

2)Establishment of policies, programs, and procedures related to Gamer Addiction

School administration and management employees

3)Understanding of the addiction process, its consequences, and self-control


1. The following chart(with its list of four focus areas) can assist in identification of possible addicts

Attitude Physical Appearance Behavior Academic Performance
  • Lack of interest in attending class

  • Nervous

  • Anxious

  • Belligerent

  • Lying

  • Angry

  • Absorbed

  • Uncomfortable
  • Disheveled
  • Unkempt
  • Red-eyed
  • Lack of personal hygiene
  • Weight loss
  • Back problems
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Migraines
  • Withdrawn
  • Isolated
  • Aggressive
  • Sleeps in class
  • Avoids eye contact
  • Lack of sleep
  • Doesn't eat regularly
  • Games for up to 20 hours at a time
  • Belligerent
  • Missing class
  • Assignments not completed
  • Sleeps in class
  • Argumentative with professors
  • Failing
  • Probation or suspension


2. School administration is responsible for establishing policies, programs, and procedures to ensure that identified gamer addicts have the available resources and adequate psychological services. Services for Gamer Addiction could be an expansion of already existing services for drug and alcohol abuse. Information about Gamer Addiction needs to be distributed on the institutional web sites, provided to parents of incoming freshmen, and students must be informed about the addiction to aid in identification with themselves and others.
3. Students must understand the importance of addictions.They need to develop the self-discipline and prioritization skills necessary for successful work/school/academics.Accepting help for the addiction is imperative! Therapy should focus on the underlying cause of the addiction and development of appropriate and effective coping skills.
Academic advisors need to add Gamer Addiction to our 'Advising Tool Kit!' Utilizing a Gaming Addiction Screening Questionnaire I developed, I administered the questionnaire to a graduate class. Results showed 1 in 8 of these students were addicted to gaming. Further organization-wide administration of the questionnaire is planned for the 2005-2006 academic year.
Identification and referral are the required dual approaches to identify students with Gamer Addiction. Orzack (2005a) noted that 'Normalizing computer uses is more and more a requirement in our modern society (p. 1).' The challenges that face academic advisors are manifold in this world where the lines between academics, work, home, relationships, and gaming - the real and the fantasy worlds - can become vague and unclear. We must identify gamer addiction early in the students' college career if we are to help ensure students' academic and life success.

Lee Kem
Murray State University
College of Education


Cromie, W. (1999) Computer Addiction is coming On-Line. Retrieved from

Orzack, M. (2005a). Q&A with Dr. Orzack. Retrieved from
Nicolosi, B (2002). Video Game Culture: A Harmless Addiction? Retrieved from

Cite this using APA style as:

Kem. L. (2005). Gamer addiction: A threat to student success! What advisors need to know Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site:

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