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ESA Disputes Game Addiction Research Methodology

The ESA is responding to widely-publicized research that claims 1 in 10 young gamers show symptoms of addiction, pointing out errors in the study methodology and urging Psychological Science magazine not to publish it.

Leigh Alexander, Contributor

April 27, 2009

3 Min Read

The Entertainment Software Association is responding to widely-publicized research that purports to show that 1 in 10 young gamers show symptoms of addiction, pointing out errors in the study methodology and urging Psychological Science magazine not to publish it. According to the study, conducted by Dr. Douglas Gentile of Iowa State University, addicted gamers play 24 hours a week, twice as much as more casual players, and they show at least six symptoms of gambling addiction -- including lying about play habits, becoming irritable when not playing, and even stealing to support their habit. The study findings are slated for publication in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science. In a letter written to the publication and released to the media, ESA CEO Michael Gallagher contends specific flaws in the study's population sampling methods. The ESA's main point of contention hinges on the fact that the study claims only about a 3 percent margin of error in its population sampling of 1,178 American kids aged 8-18. But it was not a randomly-chosen sampling; instead, participants were invited to participate via an opt-in online panel of the type that offers users redeemable points or gifts in exchange for completing surveys. "As you are likely aware, such a sample is not truly representative of a national population group," Gallagher writes in his letter to Psychological Science's Dr. Robert Kail. "Thus the results cannot be projected onto the broader population of children in this country. And the sampling error of plus or minus 3% that Dr. Gentile cited in the study is also meaningless." Gallagher also claims the study generated such significant media attention due to the potentially erroneous specificity of these numbers. Gallagher's letter notes that Dr. Gentile later conceded in press interviews that he was unaware his study sampling was not based on a random probability sampling. "We accept Dr. Gentile’s admission of error at face value, although it is hard to understand how a researcher would base a scientific study upon an assumption about the nature of the group he was studying," he writes. And Dr. Gentile was not pressed for time he could have used to verify the nature of his study sample; Gallagher points out that the data was collected in January 2007. "The admission is especially ironic considering that the first words of the abstract in the article went out of its way to note the shortcomings of previous convenience studies," says Gallagher. "Based on the public comments of both Dr. Gentile and Harris Interactive, we are requesting that any references to the study in your publication and on your Website, clarify the methodological flaws in Dr. Gentile’s study and inform your readers how those flaws affect the accuracy of the study," writes Gallagher. He urged the magazine to "note the deficiencies" in the study in the upcoming issue and in any press materials accompanying the publication. "Failure to do so will inevitably lead your readers to believe information that is not accurate." Gallagher's letter concludes, "I have no doubt that you value your publication’s credibility and reputation. Therefore, I hope this clarification is made quickly so that future readers of your publication are informed that the claims made by Dr. Gentile are not supported by the survey he has based them on." "It would be unfair and misleading for a respected publication to leave on the record such knowingly mistaken information."

About the Author(s)

Leigh Alexander


Leigh Alexander is Editor At Large for Gamasutra and the site's former News Director. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Variety, Slate, Paste, Kill Screen, GamePro and numerous other publications. She also blogs regularly about gaming and internet culture at her Sexy Videogameland site. [NOTE: Edited 10/02/2014, this feature-linked bio was outdated.]

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