Computer Game Fans Warned Of Autism Link & Severe Behaviour Changes

If you can’t stop playing computer games, be careful. Doctors say it could give you the same highly negative character traits associated with a form of autism.

Psychologists found that game playing can dominate users’ lives, making them lose sleep and miss meals and putting strain on their marriages.

They may need medical help to combat the habit, according to Dr John Charlton of Bolton University.

He studied almost 400 computer game players, mostly men and all of them regular players of an online fantasy role-playing game called Asheron’s Call.

The study showed that the closer they became to being addicted to game playing, the more likely they were to display personality traits such as low self-esteem, introverted behaviour, worrying and anxiety.

These characteristics are commonly found in Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism where sufferers have difficulties in forming relationships, social interaction and communication.

In total, 3 per cent of those questioned during the study had signs of being addicted to game playing.

As the players showed greater signs of addiction they were increasingly likely to have three personality traits normally associated with Asperger’s, such as problems with self-esteem and getting on with people.

Dr Charlton said none had been diagnosed with the disorder but, just like sufferers, they found it easier to empathise with computer systems than other people.

They also showed the same need to “escape reality”, he added.

He said: “The thinking in the field is that there is a scale along which people, even those considered to be ‘normal’, can be placed.

“People such as engineers, mathemeticians and computer scientists are nearer to the nonempathising, systemising end of the spectrum, with people with Asperger’s syndrome even further along again.

“Our research supports the idea that people who are heavily involved in game playing may be nearer to autistic spectrum disorders than people who have no interest in gaming.

“They might like to play these games because people misunderstand them and look on them negatively. They can escape by getting online.”

Dr Charlton, who carried out the study with U.S. psychologist Ian Danforth, revealed the results at the British Psychological Society’s annual conference in Dublin.

The study investigated the level to which game playing disrupted players’ everyday lives and how much it dominated their thoughts and emotions, he said.

Those who were addicted had trouble getting enough sleep, missed meals and spent increasing amounts of time thinking about playing, going online and getting a buzz of excitement from it.

Married men might be at risk of divorce because of the impact on their lives, said Dr Charlton.

He added: “It’s possible that one in 30 players are so obsessed that they might need medical help.”

Family doctors could offer cognitive behavioural therapy, a psychological treatment designed to wean addicts away from their damaging habit, he said.

“The key signs are when you’re playing more than you think you ought to and you can’t cut down even if it’s taking over your life.”