Research Article: Real and virtual worlds alike: Adolescents’ psychopathology is reflected in their videogame virtual behaviors

Date Published: July 14, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Aviv Segev, Hila Gabay-Weschler, Yossi Naar, Hagai Maoz, Yuval Bloch, Aviv M. Weinstein.


Current research refers to videogames as a constant variable. However, games today are designed to be highly interactive and versatile: two players may be using the same videogame, but as a result of different using patterns, the game will not necessarily encompass the same content and gameplay. The current study examined the possible relationship between psychopathology and in-game playing patterns. We hypothesized that adolescents would play videogames differently, in a manner that would reflect their particular psychopathologies. We examined 47 male adolescents from three diagnostic groups: those suffering from externalizing psychopathologies, internalizing psychopathologies and controls. We performed a high-resolution examination of their gameplay, using in-game quantitative statistics mechanisms of two fundamentally different games, a structured racing game and an unstructured adventure game. While there was no difference in the groups’ using patterns of the structured game, there was a high variability between the groups’ using patterns when they were using a non-structured game. These findings suggest that virtual behavior in unstructured games is reflective of adolescent-players psychopathology, and might shed light on an unexplored facet of videogames research. Possible implications are discussed.

Partial Text

Playing videogames has become a central leisure activity in the lives of adolescents and young adults in particular [1], and there has been much debate about the effects of this activity, and its possible connection to psychopathology [2]. However, conclusions have been hard to gather, and criticism has emerged regarding both the methodologies used and possible biases [3–5]. Most studies have focused on two major dimensions: screen-time (i.e., the time spent playing games, and addictive patterns) [6–8] and the content of the games (specifically violent content) [4,9]. While some studies have been able to link screen-time and violent content to psychopathology [10], the results of other studies have not borne out such a link and have instead offered alternative explanations for these findings [11].

Of the 47 participants, 15 were controls, 12 were diagnosed with internalizing-cluster disorders, and 20 with externalizing-cluster disorders. The age ranges of the control, internalizing and externalizing groups were 14.4–17.5, 13.5–18.1, and 13.2–16.5 years, respectively. The mean age differed significantly between the groups, with a younger age range typifying the externalizing group. No significant differences were reported in computer screen-time between the groups.

The central finding of this pilot study is that player attributes have a significant effect on the non-structured videogame being played. The study also showed that this variability of behavior does not exist in relation to structured games, a finding which is in keeping with the existing literature [15,16,20].

This study revealed that psychopathology was associated with adolescents’ different in-game playing patterns. Moreover, these differences were shown to be aligned with basic features of the adolescents’ psychopathologies. Examining these differences might expand the field of research into videogames in a way that will contribute to the understanding of the intricate associations between videogames and psychopathology. Moreover, if the current findings are verified by additional larger studies, an examination of the differences in playing patterns of children with psychopathologies might lead to the development of a novel assessment tool for diagnosis, evaluation and follow-up.




0 0 vote
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments