Intensive online videogame involvement: A new global idiom of wellness and distress (2019)

Transcult Psychiatry. 2019 May 13:1363461519844356. doi: 10.1177/1363461519844356. [Epub ahead of print]

Snodgrass JG1, Dengah HJF 2nd2, Polzer E3, Else R4.


Extending classic anthropological “idioms of distress” research, we argue that intensive online videogame involvement is better conceptualized as a new global idiom, not only of distress but also of wellness, especially for emerging adults (late teens through the 20s). Drawing on cognitive anthropological cultural domain interviews conducted with a small sample of U.S. gamers ( N = 26 free-list and 34 pile-sort respondents) (Study 1) and a large sample of survey data on gaming experience ( N = 3629) (Study 2), we discuss the cultural meaning and social context of this new cultural idiom of wellness and distress. Our analysis suggests that the “addiction” frame provides a means for gamers to communicate their passion and commitment to online play, even furthering their enthusiasm for the hobby and community in the process, but also a way for players to express and even resolve life distress such as depression and loneliness. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has recently included “Internet gaming disorder” (IGD) as a possible behavioral addiction, akin to gambling, warranting further consideration for eventual formal inclusion in the next iteration of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Our study leads us to suggest that clinicians only sparingly use IGD as a clinical category, given that medical and gamer understandings of “addictive” play differ so markedly. This includes better distinguishing positive online gaming involvement-also sometimes framed by gamers as “addictive”-from other play patterns more clearly entailing distress and dysfunction.

KEYWORDS: Internet gaming disorder; idioms of distress; involved gaming; online computer games; psychiatric anthropology

PMID: 31084279

DOI: 10.1177/1363461519844356