For most youngsters, gaming is a fun and innocent leisure activity. However, some adolescents are prone to develop problematic gaming behavior. It is therefore important to have a comprehensive understanding of psychosocial and game-related characteristics that differentiate highly engaged gamers from problematic gamers. To that end, this study evaluated the stability and consistency of Internet gaming criteria (as suggested by the DSM-5) and psychosocial characteristics in a two-wave longitudinal study including 1928 young adolescents (mean age = 13.3 years, SD = 0.91, 57% boys).
A confirmatory factor analysis revealed good stability of the Internet gaming disorder (IGD) construct over time. Latent class analyses revealed three classes for boys (recreational, engaged, and problematic) and two classes for girls (recreational and engaged).
Significant differences between classes emerged for problem criteria (conflict and problems in social life), gaming duration, impulsivity, social competence, and attention/hyperactivity. The absence of a problematic gaming class for girls suggests that girls are less likely to develop problematic gaming behavior.
The IGD criteria as proposed by the DSM-5 are a helpful tool to identify problematic gamers, although the results of this study suggest that using a strict cut-off point might result in false positives, particularly for boys. Problem criteria appeared to be the most sensitive and specific in identifying the problematic gamer, whereas escapism criteria were the least specific and sensitive. Careful consideration of the current proposed criteria to identify problematic gaming behavior could benefit the research and clinical field.