Gaming Addiction - Landscape

Gaming Addiction: How Metacognition, Desire & Craving Influence Problematic Use of Video Games

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Among individuals of all ages, gaming addiction has been an issue of concern for many years. It is comparable to any other addiction in terms of its effect on health and quality of life. In a study of mostly males (81.8%) between the ages of 18-to 58-years-old, Bonner and colleagues (2022) examined the metacognitive model of desire thinking and craving (MMDTC) and whether this model predicted gaming addiction.

Understanding Gaming Addiction and the Metacognitive Model of Desire Thinking & Craving (MMDTC)

The MMDTC explains the relationships between metacognitions and components of desire thinking, stating that positive metacognitions about desire thinking lead to a greater likelihood that a person will use and be reliant on desire thinking processes. Desire thinking occurs when a person willingly engages in the use of both verbal (e.g., continuous self-talk) and imaginal (e.g., remembering, imagining) cognitions that are related to and support engagement in the desired target (Caselli & Spada, 2010, 2011). 

The authors explain that desire thinking processes include imaginal prefiguration and verbal perseveration. When these thinking processes are used and depended upon, there are propensities for stronger mental and physical cravings to occur (e.g., a “craving” to play video games). The mental and physical cravings experienced by a person are believed to make negative metacognitions more intense—negative metacognitions about the uncontrollable nature and consequences of desire thinking, which is then believed to increase cognitive attentional syndrome (CAS), wherein desire thinking and a negative feedback loop occurs.

Study Results

The authors asked a sample of 186 participants who played online video games and met the criteria for Internet gaming disorder to complete an online survey. The following results were found:

  • The MMDTC predicted gaming addiction, specifically gaming-related cravings and cognitions.
  • When assessing psychopathology among the sample, anger and anxiety could increase the metacognitive and cognitive processes associated with cravings.
  • People with gaming addiction that play video games as an “escape,” to help them cope, or for skill development had stronger positive metacognitions about desire thinking.

Using These Findings About Gaming Addiction in Clinical Practice

The findings demonstrate the importance of understanding the motive of a client struggling with gaming addiction and their metacognitions about desire thinking in targeting video game use and cravings. It is important for practitioners to remember that metacognitions about desire thinking—and desire thinking itself—could be central cognitive processes in craving, anger, and anxiety for people with gaming addiction or problematic video game use. Therapeutic interventions for gaming addiction that target and modify dysfunctional metacognitive beliefs that serve to increase the frequency (positive beliefs) and intensity (negative beliefs) of desire thinking may be beneficial to this client population. Although desire thinking may lead to cravings and related psychopathology, metacognitions precede and maintain maladaptive thinking types.

In therapy, practitioners would also benefit from focusing on the client’s motivation and how motivation is related to gaming-related desire thinking and cravings—and also predict the metacognitive beliefs that play a role in this process. Motivational types could give treatment providers context for how metacognitive beliefs develop, thus allowing intervention methods that are individually tailored to client needs. Providers treating clients with gaming addiction may be interested in learning more about metacognitive therapy for other addictive behaviors (Caselli et al., 2018; Palmieri et al., 2020; Spada et al., 2013; Wells, 2009), specifically therapy that focuses on decreasing the negative consequences of these processes, such as attention training (Wells, 2009).

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