NGS News

Internet Gaming – A Problem for Young People, Families and Schools?

The online journal, School Governance, recently published an article by Elita Bird discussing the implications for schools of online gaming addictions which may lead to the development in adolescents of Internet Gaming Disorder or IGD (Bird, 2022). This article followed on from another recent article by Jordan Baker in The Age, titled “Problem gaming leading to aggression, school refusal and self-harm” (2022) in which she reports “Tens of thousands of Australian teenagers are gaming at pathological levels, which in extreme cases is leading to prolonged school refusal, threats of self-harm and aggression towards family members”. In this article, Ms Baker refers to a recent study out of Macquarie University led by Associate Professor Wayne Warburton (Warburton et al., 2022). So, is online internet gaming in fact a problem for our schools, families and, most importantly, our young people? If so, what might be the indications of risk and how might we counter these? While not professing to have the solutions to this increasingly common, complex and pervasive issue, I hope to shed some light.

Problematic Gaming Behaviour

In the second Australian Child and Adolescent survey of mental health and wellbeing – ‘Young Minds Matter’ – the association between online activity and mental disorders and risk-taking behaviours were investigated. The survey, which included 2,967 Australian adolescents, their parents and their carers, did find correlations between online behaviours and mental disorders (Rikkers et al., 2016).

Although 85% of respondents did confirm their participation in electronic gaming, the responses of only 4% indicated the presence of problematic behaviours. These problematic behaviours include:

  • Going without food, drink and sleep
  • Feeling bothered when not gaming online
  • Engaging in online games even when not interested in the game
  • Loss of time spent with friends, family and schoolwork
  • Difficulty staying offline
  • Symptoms of Internet Gaming Disorder including psychological distress and suicidal ideation.

While 4% of young people exhibit problematic online gaming behaviours, Warburton, consistent with other findings, identified 2.8% of online gamers as meeting the criteria for a diagnosis of IGD (Warburton et al., 2022). As Ms Baker states, given the population of Australian adolescents, “that equates to tens of thousands of young people”.

Adolescent participation in online gaming and the subsequent increase in Internet Gaming Disorder has increased significantly during the COVID-19 Pandemic, as have symptoms of depression and anxiety in young people (Teng et al., 2021). Adolescence is a critical period of vulnerability for addictive disorders (Blakemore, 2019; Steinberg, 2007) and this does include IGD, which is exacerbated by pre-existing conditions including anxiety and depression.

Despite the #PlayApartTogether initiative through the Pandemic promoting online gaming successfully as a means to maintain and grow relationships and reduce stress during periods of social isolation, it is our young people who are now at greatest risk of developing intractable habits and suffering undesirable outcomes (King et al., 2020). As adults, our role is to provide balanced guidance and support, ensuring that we are aware not only of the pitfalls and potential dangers to our young people through excessive online gaming including IGD, but that we are aware of the psychosocial benefits also (Blake & Sauermilch, 2021). Research indicates that participation in online and video gaming has become the fastest growing recreational pursuit, with revenue exceeding that of Hollywood (Ryan et al., 2006). In addition to the problematic behaviours mentioned previously, psychological benefits may also be experienced by participants including a sense of efficacy and control over the environment and improvements in cognitive functioning through mastery of the challenges of the online gaming platforms.

Motivation for Gaming

Bird (2022) identifies a number of benefits for gamers. These include immersion in experiential learning environments, high levels of engagement, using failure to drive future success, improved cognitive abilities and social skills, and developing improved digital literacy skills. 

Gaming can also help to satisfy the three basic psychosocial needs identified by Ryan and Deci (Deci & Ryan, 2009). These are the need for: 

  • Competence – to feel efficacious and to experience success and mastery; 
  • Relatedness – to develop meaningful and satisfying relationships and a sense of belonging and being valued; and 
  • Autonomy – to act with choice and volition rather than from a place of control or coercion. 

The pathological levels of online gaming described in Ms Baker’s Age article will be most likely to occur when satisfaction of these three basic human needs is thwarted in the real world but satisfied through online gaming (Allen & Anderson, 2018). While frustration of these basic needs in real life leads to amotivation, that is an unwillingness to participate in activities such as schooling, socializing, sporting or cultural activities, and family life, online gaming satisfaction of these needs leads to autonomous motivation to engage, at worst resulting in IGD, potentially leading to the sorts of undesirable outcomes listed earlier.

Online games are designed to satisfy these needs. They are optimally challenging, offering ‘Goldilocks’ tasks that are not too easy, not too difficult, but targeted at exactly the right level to lead to the optimal state of mind that Csikszentmihalyi describes as ‘Flow’ (Csikszentmihalyi, 2013) and satisfying the need for competence. The player is in control of the action and is acting with volition, satisfying the need for autonomy. And participating in massive multi-player online games (MMOGs) fosters friendships and social relationships and a sense of belonging to something greater than the self, satisfying the need for relatedness. The satisfaction of these needs online when not satisfied in real life may result in heightening the intrinsic motivation to participate, possibly leading to short-term temporary improvement in wellbeing, then gaming addiction and potentially resulting in IGD along with the associated problematic behaviours. 

Where to from here?

Warburton et al (2022) identify a series of protective factors that predict levels of resilience against developing IGD. These include:

  • Parental boundaries on game time – online gaming up to two or three hours over a weekend is unlikely to lead to IGD (Gowing, 2022) and may have positive wellbeing and psychosocial outcomes.
  • Positive self-esteem
  • High quality parent-child attachment
  • Warmth and connectedness with the family
  • Social influence and inclusion in a friendship group
  • Feeling of control over one’s external environment
  • Self-control and self-regulation
  • Mastery of skills outside of gaming, such as academic, sporting, musical or cultural skills and talents.

Significant risk factors include social exclusion and impulsivity along with pre-existing mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

In short, pathological Internet Gaming Disorder is a continuum, not a dichotomy. IGD is least likely in adolescent young people when the satisfaction of their basic psychological needs in the real world surpass those in video games (Allen & Anderson, 2018). IGD scores are lowest when real-world needs satisfaction is high.


Allen, J. J., & Anderson, C. A. (2018). Satisfaction and frustration of basic psychological needs in the real world and in video games predict internet gaming disorder scores and well-being. Computers in Human Behavior, 84, 220-229. 

Baker, J. (2022, 15 July). Problem gaming leading to aggression, school refusal and self-harm. The Age

Bird, E. (2022). Online Gaming Addictions: What This Means For Schools. School Governance, Complispace. Retrieved 11 August.

Blake, E., & Sauermilch, D. (2021). Reconsidering internet gaming disorder during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Technology in Behavioral Science, 6(2), 348-351. 

Blakemore, S.-J. (2019). Adolescence and mental healthThe Lancet (British edition), 393(10185), 2030-2031. 

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2013). Flow: The psychology of happiness. Random House. 

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2009). Self-determination theory: A consideration of human motivational universals. In G. Matthews & P. J. Corr (Eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Personality Psychology (pp. 441-456). Cambridge University Press. 

Gowing, G. (2022). How too much screen time is hurting our kids. Macquarie University. Retrieved 15 August from 

King, D. L., Delfabbro, P. H., Billieux, J., & Potenza, M. N. (2020). Problematic online gaming and the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 9(2), 184-186. 

Rikkers, W., Lawrence, D., Hafekost, J., & Zubrick, S. R. (2016). Internet use and electronic gaming by children and adolescents with emotional and behavioural problems in Australia – Results from the second Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. BMC public health, 16(1), 399-316. 

Ryan, R. M., Rigby, C. S., & Przybylski, A. (2006). The Motivational Pull of Video Games: A Self-Determination Theory Approach. Motivation and Emotion, 30(4), 344-360. 

Steinberg, L. (2007). Risk Taking in Adolescence: New Perspectives from Brain and Behavioral Science. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16(2), 55-59. 

Teng, Z., Pontes, H. M., Nie, Q., Griffiths, M. D., & Guo, C. (2021). Depression and anxiety symptoms associated with internet gaming disorder before and during the COVID-19 pandemic: A longitudinal study. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 10(1), 169-180. 

Warburton, W. A., Parkes, S., & Sweller, N. (2022). Internet Gaming Disorder: Evidence for a Risk and Resilience Approach. International journal of environmental research and public health, 19(9), 5587.