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Rapid Communication Why Are Adolescents Addicted to Online Gaming? An Interview Study in Taiwan CHIN-SHENG WAN, M.S. and WEN-BIN CHIOU, Ph.D.
ABSTRACT The purpose of this study was twofold: to investigate the conscious and unconscious psychological motivations of online game addicts, and to further discuss the relationship between surface and source motivations. Ten Taiwanese adolescents with online game addiction were selected for in-depth interviews. Through sentence completion test and semi-structured interviews, data were collected and analyzed from the following four realms: (1) surface motivations, (2) source motivations, (3) self-conception, and (4) interpersonal relationships in real life. After content analysis, five categories with distinct themes were formed: (1) addicts’ psychological needs and motivations; (2) online games as the everyday focus of the addicts; (3) the interplay of real self and virtual self; (4) online games as the compensatory or extensive satisfaction for addicts’ needs; and (5) addicts’ self-reflections. The implications of the present study are discussed. INTRODUCTION
OUNG1 STATED that the Internet itself is not addic-
tive, but specific applications embedded with interactive features appear to play a significant role in the development of pathological Internet use. Online games have attracted large numbers of players. Users can build their own virtual organizations and create individual factions, organizations, and terms based on shared beliefs, goals, preferences, and other factors.2 Massive multi-player on-line role-playing games (MMORPGs) are endless, because the main feature of MMORPGs is its system of goals and achievements.3 Ng et al.3 stated that social interaction in MMORPGs is highly essential, as you must collaborate with other players in the game to succeed in more complex goals, and a player must join a “guild” or “clan” of other players to advance further in the game.
Online games have become one of the most addictive activities on the Internet.1 Most of the previous studies utilized quantitative methods, such as quantitative questionnaires, to explore the behavior of heavy online game users.2–5 As seen in previous research, excessive use of online games can result in a number of negative outcomes, such as a negative impact on academic performance, increased anxiety, deterioration of interpersonal relationship, escape from reality, and youth violence and crimes. Therefore, online game addiction is an issue of great concern that requires further exploration. The majority of research concerned with online games has been conducted within a quantitative research paradigm. Few have explored this issue using qualitative research methodology, such as conducting in-depth interviews with online game addicts. Tsai and Lin6 suggested that qualitative data gath-
General Education Center, Kaohsiung Hospitality College, Kaohsiung, Taiwan, R.O.C.
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ered from interviews might not only help researchers interpret the findings revealed but also produce a more detailed picture about Internet addiction. Griffiths7 also suggested that other empirical techniques such as in-depth qualitative interviews are required. The aim of this study was to conduct in-depth interviews focusing on excessive and addictive online game use among adolescents in Taiwan.
There were 17 question items in total, and the subjects were instructed to answer the questions by providing the first thought or feeling coming to their mind according to their real experiences and views. The second phase of the interview included 13 open question items in order to obtain more data about the subjects’ in-depth personal experiences and thoughts regarding the Internet and online games.
METHODS Subjects The subjects for the present study were selected because they demonstrated addictive behaviors toward online games and were highly cooperative. Six subjects were chosen from Internet cafés, and four subjects were referred. Seven subjects were male, and three subjects were female. Eight subjects were students whose experience with online game was an average of 3 years. The subjects spent more than 48 h on online games per week. Procedure All of the subjects exhibited addictive behavior toward online games as determined by the researcher’s subjective assessment and objective indices (scores obtained from online game addiction scales8). After acquiring consent from the subjects, the semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted. The subjects were interviewed individually, with interviews ranging from 50 min to 2.5 h. A trained researcher conducted each interview individually. The interviews were used to supplement our previous survey findings and to gather first-hand, self-reported verbal data from these subjects. We expected that the qualitative nature of this study would provide more in-depth and rich descriptions, such as the “how” and “why” of online game addiction and heavy use. Interview questions The interview questions included the following four major realms: (1) surface motivations, (2) indepth motivations, (3) self-conception, and (4) interpersonal relationships in real life. The first phase of the interview adopted the method of “sentence completion,” which required the interviewees to finish a series of incomplete sentences. Sentence completion is a type of “projection technique,” which is often used to obtain in-depth motivations, needs, contradictions, or conflicts of participants.
RESULTS During data analysis, the texts of the interview contents were first transcribed. Then, themes were developed according to the study objectives, and explanations generated to identify the source motivations of players addicted to online games based on the perspective of psychodynamics. Psychological needs and motivations This study analyzed both the question contents concerning the motivations and functions of online games, and the self-changing items from the interviews. Analysis of the results indicated that psychological needs and motivations could be categorized into the following seven themes: (1) entertainment and leisure, (2) emotional coping (diversions from loneliness, isolation and boredom, releasing stress, relaxation, discharging anger and frustration), (3) escaping from reality, (4) satisfying interpersonal and social needs (making friends, strengthening friendships, and generating a sense of belonging and recognition), (5) the need for achievement, (6) the need for excitement and challenge, and (7) the need for power (the sense of superiority, the desire for control, and facilitation of self-confidence). Addicts’ focus of life Most of the interviewees stated that their life would be “dark” and “boring” if there were no online games. Conversely, one interviewee suggested that life would be “not much different,” whilst another suggested that life would be “better!” without online games. Furthermore, concerning “how do you think” about being so addicted to online games, the interviewees suggested that playing online games was only for “feeling relaxed,” “leisure activity,” “whiling away the time,” “escaping from reality, being slack, and not feeling like studying,” and “the need for interpersonal relations.” The texts of self-reflection, on the one hand, illustrate
that playing online games is the focus of the addicts’ life.
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in reality. In other words, online games provide the addicted players another channel for meeting their needs for interpersonal relationships.
Interplay of virtual self and real self The following are interview items posed to the subjects that concerned self-conception, or the differences between the real self and the virtual self: (1) “Have you chosen an identity completely different from the reality in online games?,” (2) “What kind of image would you like to create yourself into?” (3) “Playing online games makes me think of myself as . . . .,” and (4) “Is there anything that you would dare to do in online games and not in real life?” The answers indicated that a consistent or compensatory relationship existed between the virtual self in online games and the real self, and this finding suggests that the virtual self in the online games not only could extend the real self (self extension: consistency), but also could serve as a compensatory function that might satisfy the unfulfilled roles in real life. The consistent or compensatory relationship of virtual self and real self was mainly reflected in the areas of “need for interpersonal relations” and “escaping from reality,” and revealed that online games could provide the function of role-playing. Griffiths et al.9 analyzed two sites of information on online game players, and the results indicated that nearly three quarters of players engage in roleplay at some point. The present study showed that at least eight subjects would use identities different from that in real life, and some even played the role of the opposite sex. Compensatory or extensive satisfaction As discussed previously, the five themes of need consisted of the following: (1) “entertainment and leisure,” (2) “emotional coping: whiling away times and diverting oneself from loneliness and boredom, releasing stresses, relaxing and letting off emotions,” (3) “need for interpersonal relations,” (4) “excitement and challenge seeking,” and (5) “escaping from the reality.” The subjects’ motivations for playing online games (answers to the five items above) were compared with the answers for the following items: (1) “how is your interpersonal relationships in real life?” (2) “the relationship with peers in real life,” and (3) “in real life, I like to seek . . .” It was found that in the area of “interpersonal relationship needs,” the interpersonal relationships in online games might serve as a type of compensation and replacing satisfaction, or a type of extension for the quality and needs of interpersonal relationship
Self-reflections Regarding self reflections of online game engagement, the subjects’ answers for questions such as “to put it bluntly, playing online games is simply . . .” and “what do you think of yourself as being so addicted to online games?” are quite consistent to their motivations for playing online games, which include “entertainment and leisure,” “emotional coping: whiling away time and diverting oneself from loneliness and boredom, releasing stresses, relaxing and letting off emotions,” “interpersonal interactivity,” “excitement and challenge seeking,” and “escaping from the reality.” However, “the need for power: the sense of superiority and control” was not mentioned, which might indicate that this need is only a secondary superficial motivation, rather than a primary need and motivation for addicted online game players. Moreover, from the perspective of psychodynamics,10 the answers regarding the motivations suggest that the needs for achievement and power in addicted players might be absent in the unconscious level. Even though some of the addicted online game players consciously believe that online games could meet the needs for achievement and power, this might be opposite to their unconsciousness. This means that the needs for power and achievement in these addicted players might actually be quite little; however, because of the censorship from the superego, the ego consciously shows the needs for power and achievement through online games via the defense mechanism of reaction formation. Therefore, the presence of needs for power and achievement in the conscious level merely reflects their weak or absent existence in the unconscious level.
DISCUSSION The aim of this study was to explore addicts’ psychological texts among adolescents in Taiwan. The psychological texts provided by the subjects suggest that their major needs for playing online games were for the four areas of “entertainment and leisure,” “emotional coping,” “excitement and challenge seeking,” and “escaping from reality.” Similarly, the subjects’ texts also suggested that online games either provide them with a compensatory channel for unsatisfying needs or motivations
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in their real life, or for the same things they are seeking in real life. Most of the subjects reported that playing online games had become the focus of their life. The experiences provided by the subjects suggest that, without online games, life would become “dark” and “bored.” Why do people easily become addicted to online games? The relationship between sense of control and self-efficacy11,12 might provide insight into this pathological use of online games. Addicted players felt that they could obtain the “sense of control” through playing online games. However, based upon the perspective of the ambivalent motivations in individuals’ compulsive behaviors, playing games compulsively might only serve as a coping mechanism, similar to the incessant purification behavior of obsessive-compulsive patients such as hand washing. Thus, they might become more likely to engage in online gaming for the purpose of a temporary distraction. Follow the rationale, there should be the desire of “not-wantingto-control and not-willing-to-determine” in the unconscious level of addicted players. However, this motivation is not accepted by the censorship of the superego.13 In order to reduce the neurotic anxiety resulting from conflict between the id and the superego, addicts would have to constantly seek the virtual sense of control through online gaming. Most of the subjects in the present study showed strong interests in role-playing of online games, in which they often do things that they dare not to do in real life. In an anonymous environment, online game players always appear with nicknames instead of real names. Thus, many people who are addicted to the Internet might attempt to escape from the limitations brought by real life in order to obtain the space for survival and security.14 This indicates that online gaming brings a anonymous environment with lower public self-awareness, and allows players to stop concentrating on the selfconsciousness in order to prevent becoming overlyworried about what other people would evaluate and judge the way they act in front of others.15 From the perspective of psychodynamics,10 at the conscious level addicted players might seek selfpresentation in an anonymous, relaxing, and secure space, but unconsciously, they might actually have an unsatisfied need for self-presentation due to their poor self-image in real life. Addressing the theoretical implications of this study, some subjects’ reports indicate that they had a reaction formation concerning the needs for power and achievement in the unconscious level, resulting in the compulsive use of online games. In
other words, unconsciously, these addicted online game players should be motivated to avoid pursuing achievements, power, and sense of superiority. Although this avoidance could not be detected in the conscious level, the censorship of the superego triggers the defensive mechanism of reaction formation, which results in the pursuit of the virtual satisfaction of achievements and power in the online games. In online games, the players might be pursuing the satisfaction of achievement and power on the surface; however, in real life, they are not able to face these challenges, hence leading to contradictions between their surface motivations and source motivations. From the perspective of psychodynamics,10 when addicts would not be willing to cope with the source motivations in the unconscious level, they would incessantly engage in the heavy use of online games to reduce the neurotic anxiety coming from the conflict between their superego and ego. Through an analysis of the psychological texts provided by the addicted players, it was found that the pathological viewpoints of psychodynamics for compulsive behaviors could be used to explain addicts’ source motivation in the unconscious level, and these source motivations might be the dynamic which motivates the players to engage in online games compulsively. As to the practical implications of this study, in regarding to the addicted players whose pathological use due to their reaction formation to unconscious motivations, the counseling intervention could be employed by a psychoanalysis approach. Counselors’ interpretation of the players’ neurotic anxiety would enable them to get insights into their source motivations in the unconscious level, and thus break the chain of compulsive Internet use. Concerning addicted players without the contradiction between surface motivations and source motivations; online games only serve as a way for extending or replacing satisfactions in the virtual world. Therefore, providing them with extending or replacing alternatives with more benefits and less negative effects would result in a decrease in their addictive use of online games. The subjects used in the present study only included Taiwanese adolescents; hence, the phenomenon of online game addiction should not be generalized beyond the parameters of this study. Future research should include interviews with adolescents from other countries as well as conduct cross-cultural analyses. Future studies could consider conducting in-depth interviews over the Internet, rather than our face-to-face interviews; participants might be more forthcoming and hon-
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est in the anonymous environment of the Internet. Moreover, on-line interviews can be conducted without the limitations of time and location, and each interviewee’s responses could easily be recorded in digital format.16
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Address reprint requests to: Dr. Wen-Bin Chiou General Education Center Kaohsiung Hospitality College No. 1, Sung-Ho Rd., Shiao-Kang Kaohsiung, Taiwan, R.O.C. E-mail: [email protected]