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ESA Disputes Game Addiction Research Methodology
ESA Disputes Game Addiction Research Methodology
April 27, 2009 | By Leigh Alexander

April 27, 2009 | By Leigh Alexander
More: Console/PC

The Entertainment Software Association is responding to widely-publicized research that purports to show that 1 in 10 young gamers show symptoms of addiction, pointing out errors in the study methodology and urging Psychological Science magazine not to publish it.

According to the study, conducted by Dr. Douglas Gentile of Iowa State University, addicted gamers play 24 hours a week, twice as much as more casual players, and they show at least six symptoms of gambling addiction -- including lying about play habits, becoming irritable when not playing, and even stealing to support their habit.

The study findings are slated for publication in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science. In a letter written to the publication and released to the media, ESA CEO Michael Gallagher contends specific flaws in the study's population sampling methods.

The ESA's main point of contention hinges on the fact that the study claims only about a 3 percent margin of error in its population sampling of 1,178 American kids aged 8-18.

But it was not a randomly-chosen sampling; instead, participants were invited to participate via an opt-in online panel of the type that offers users redeemable points or gifts in exchange for completing surveys.

"As you are likely aware, such a sample is not truly representative of a national population group," Gallagher writes in his letter to Psychological Science's Dr. Robert Kail. "Thus the results cannot be projected onto the broader population of children in this country. And the sampling error of plus or minus 3% that Dr. Gentile cited in the study is also meaningless."

Gallagher also claims the study generated such significant media attention due to the potentially erroneous specificity of these numbers.

Gallagher's letter notes that Dr. Gentile later conceded in press interviews that he was unaware his study sampling was not based on a random probability sampling. "We accept Dr. Gentile’s admission of error at face value, although it is hard to understand how a researcher would base a scientific study upon an assumption about the nature of the group he was studying," he writes.

And Dr. Gentile was not pressed for time he could have used to verify the nature of his study sample; Gallagher points out that the data was collected in January 2007.

"The admission is especially ironic considering that the first words of the abstract in the article went out of its way to note the shortcomings of previous convenience studies," says Gallagher.

"Based on the public comments of both Dr. Gentile and Harris Interactive, we are requesting that any references to the study in your publication and on your Website, clarify the methodological flaws in Dr. Gentile’s study and inform your readers how those flaws affect the accuracy of the study," writes Gallagher.

He urged the magazine to "note the deficiencies" in the study in the upcoming issue and in any press materials accompanying the publication. "Failure to do so will inevitably lead your readers to believe information that is not accurate."

Gallagher's letter concludes, "I have no doubt that you value your publication’s credibility and reputation. Therefore, I hope this clarification is made quickly so that future readers of your publication are informed that the claims made by Dr. Gentile are not supported by the survey he has based them on."

"It would be unfair and misleading for a respected publication to leave on the record such knowingly mistaken information."

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Brandon Davis
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I have not read the article, but would look forward to critiquing same. I am now in the business of a new start-up company(LearningMagicGaming Corp.), but for many years I had a practice in neuropsychology.

Research articles have their own foibles, equal to the social/intellectual discrepancies of the issues to which they intend to offer review and understanding. This purported article is, I'm sure, no different. Previous to Psychological Science's intended publication, hopefully appropriate peer review was conducted. Such peer review would, I assume, feret out many of the weaknesses of the research.

Having said that, and without reading the article, let me say a few things about some of the substantive concerns addressed in this Gamasutra article. Of primary consideration, its obvious that all humans have objects of obsession, aka addiction. Of course, there is a research industry out there that is dedicated to exploring the variables and distinctions between the use of such terms. One might gainsay that such people are addicted to doing such research. One occasionally hears of researchers who have lied or prevaricated their data. Possibly, they may even be drug abusers. However, it would be unwise and ignorant to assume that their obsession/dedication to research led to their lieing and drug use.

Similarly, the issue of kids/adults being 'addicted to games' has a tenuous causal relationship to forms of psychopathic deviance and other issues of asocial behavior. I,for one, am continuously offended by attempts by politicians, who give their money to 'researchers', to make gaming the whipping boy/girl of society's delinquencies. One might even be prone to speculate on the deviant behavior of politicians, and if in fact they were/are gamers at some point in their sordid lives! Of course no such correlation could exist. Nor does it exist with gamers

Examples of how we attach ourselves to fulfilliment/achievement are as numerous as human nature itself. My teenage daughter, for instance is addicted to tennis, and academic achievement. She is less addicted to Wii Tennis games, but seems to indicate such tendencies during non-tennis team seasons.

I, without reservation am addicted to tuning in to Keith Olbermann, on a nightly basis, and equally addicted to following the Nationals. As the current record of the latter noted team is 4-13, I might confess that such an addiction is both unproductive, negative, and probably without redeeming social value!

In neither my own addictive situation, or that of my daughters, have we been prone to use drugs, lie, or pursue the litany of psychopathic behavior reported in the Psychological Science article on gaming. Nor do I, even for 1 minute, presume that gamers have such propensities. Brandon Davis, Ph.D./CEO LMG

Tom Newman
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Most of these surveys are bogus, as they leave out much pertenant information. Kids seem to be more addicted to TV than games if they are "addicted" to anything. I read one study a couple weeks ago on another site that found that 1/3 of all kids will blow off homework or other chores to play games, without listing any other activity that kids may ALSO use to get out of homework/chores, not to mention that even before videogames, kids blew off homework/chores as well.

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Robert Farr
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I've never known anyone who hasn't been at least slightly irritated when pulled away from doing something they enjoy. That applies to more than just games.

Wish I knew the true extent of the file-drawer problem (Where research which doesn't get news-media-worthy results gets chucked in a file drawer, never to see the light of day), now THAT would be an interesting bit of research if done properly.

Craig Hamilton
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It's no coincidence that the "study" took place in January; right after all those kids got their new games for Christmas. Of course they're going to play more then than other times of the year.