Am J Hum Biol. 2018 Jun 20:e23146. doi: 10.1002/ajhb.23146.
To combine social genomics with cultural approaches to expand understandings of the somatic health dynamics of online gaming, including in the controversial nosological construct of internet gaming disorder (IGD).
In blood samples from 56 U.S. gamers, we examined expression of the conserved transcriptional response to adversity (CTRA), a leukocyte gene expression profile activated by chronic stress. We compared positively engaged and problem gamers, as identified by an ethnographically developed measure, the Positive and Negative Gaming Experiences Scale (PNGE-42), and also by a clinically derived IGD scale (IGDS-SF9).
CTRA profiles showed a clear relationship with PNGE-42, with a substantial linkage to offline social support, but were not meaningfully associated with disordered play as measured by IGDS-SF9.
Our study advances understanding of the psychobiology of play, demonstrating via novel transcriptomic methods the association of negatively experienced internet play with biological measures of chronic threat, uncertainty, and distress. Our findings are consistent with the view that problematic patterns of online gaming are a proxy for broader patterns of biopsychosocial stress and distress such as loneliness, rather than a psychiatric disorder sui generis, which might exist apart from gamers’ other life problems. By confirming the biological correlates of certain patterns of internet gaming, culturally-sensitive genomics approaches such as this can inform both evolutionary theorizing regarding the nature of play, as well as current psychiatric debates about the appropriateness of modeling distressful gaming on substance addiction and problem gambling.