PLoS One. 2018 Apr 19;13(4):e0195677. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0195677.
Internet gaming disorder (IGD) is a new disorder that warrants further investigation, as recently noted in the research criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Offering controlled environments that increase cue-induced craving, virtual reality cue-exposure therapy has been shown to be effective for some addiction disorders. To assess the feasibility of virtual reality for patients with IGD, this study aimed to develop virtual environments that represent risk situations for inducing craving, and assess the effect of virtual reality in cue reactivity. A total of 64 male adolescents and young adults (34 with IGD and 30 without) were recruited for participation. We developed a virtual internet café environment and the participants were exposed to four different tasks. As the primary feasibility outcome, cravings were measured with a visual analogue scale measuring current urge to play a game after exposure to each task. The virtual internet café induced significantly greater cravings in patients with IGD compared to controls. Additionally, patients exhibited a significantly higher acceptance rate of an avatar’s invitation to play a game together than that of controls. In IGD, craving response to the tasks was positively associated with the symptom severity score as measured by Young’s Internet Addiction Test. These findings reveal that virtual reality laden with complex game-related cues could evoke game craving in patients with IGD and could be used in the treatment of IGD as a cue-exposure therapy tool for eliciting craving.