One in Ten Chinese Young Adults Show Symptoms of Pathological Video Game Playing


Video game playing has become a very popular activity globally and has even become recognized as a sport by some countries, including China. The prevalence of problematic video gaming in mainland China is just beginning to be explored, while so-called addiction rehabilitation camps conduct questionable procedures to “cure” those viewed as addicted to video games. This paper reports on the prevalence of problematic gaming in a sample of 317 mainland Chinese young adults. The survey included questions about demographics, video gaming preferences, frequency of video game playing, and video game related problems as measured by the Problem Video Game Playing scale (PVP). Most of the students (88.29%) reported having played video games in the past, and 17.75% reported playing games daily. A little more than 1 in 10 of respondents (12.6%) endorsed 5 or more of the PVP items (males 21.43%; females 4.29%). Further research is required regarding appropriate means of prevention and treatment of problematic video game playing, as well as deeper investigation into risk factors and the psychological impact of gaming dependency.

Keywords: Mainland Chinese, prevalence, problematic gaming, problem video game playing (PVP) scale, young adults, video games

What follows is the Discussion and Conclusion portion of my graduate thesis dissertation for Concordia University Irvine. For the complete document, please send a request via email.

Prevalence and Conditions of Gaming in China

Results of the study show that video gaming is very common among young adults in China, with about 88.29% having played games before and 82.39% having played in the past year. Additionally, 17.75% of the sample reported playing every day or almost every day, and 67.59% reported playing at least weekly. According to a 2008 national survey of online game players, 19.5% of players play online games for five to eight hours per day, and 22.4% play more than eight hours per day (Peng & Liu, 2010). This study’s numbers, however, indicated that only 16.1% of Chinese gamers played five to eight hours, and only 3.77% played more than eight hours each gaming session.

In Thomas & Martin’s (2010) study, the most frequently experienced aspect of computer game addiction to games reported was returning to play to chase a higher score (48.5% of secondary school gamers, 51.3% of college gamers, and 52.7% of university gamers). The second highest endorsed item by secondary and college samples was anticipating future engagement. Results were the same in this study, with the highest endorsement being playing again to achieve one’s target after losing a game or not obtaining desired results (67.41%) and the second highest endorsement being planning future gaming sessions (54.43%).

Problematic Video Game Playing

The study shows that 12.6% of video game players, and 14.17% of past-year video game players, exhibit pathological patterns of play as defined by responding positively to five of eight symptoms outlined by Salguero and Moran (2002) and which were derived from the DSM-IV criteria for pathological gambling. Like in Turner et al.’s study, males were five times more likely than females to fall into this category of problematic gaming (21.43% of males compared to 4.29% of females in this study). Although high frequency and duration of play was strongly associated with more problems, daily playing was not necessarily indicative of problem gaming—only 17.31% of daily players and 16.16% of weekly players could be considered problematic gamers. Furthermore, of those who played nine hours or more each session, 27.27% fell into the category of problem gamers while 72.72% did not. Of those who played five or more hours each session, only 39.66% were problem gamers. Therefore, while frequency and duration of play may be related to problematic gaming, they do not themselves indicate problem gaming.

As to the prevalence of video gaming and potential problems of Chinese young adults, this study’s findings somewhat match those of other studies, although the percentages in China for problem gaming appear higher than in other countries. This study found that about 88.29% had played video games before; Gentile (2009) also found that 88% of American youth play video games at least occasionally, Thomas & Martin (2010) found that 95.6% of secondary students, 91.3% of college students, and 82.5% of university students had played computer games, and 93% of the sample in Saleguro & Moran’s (2002) study had played video games in the past year, compared to 82.4% in this study. However, this study’s finding that 12.6% of the sample demonstrating potential problem video game playing is higher than similar studies done in other countries, and significantly higher than the number given to journalists. Findings for other countries include 8.5% in the United States, 5% in Australia, 9.4% in Canada, 9.9% in Spain, and 8.7% in Singapore (Gentile, 2009; Thomas & Marin, 2010; Turner et al., 2012; Salguero & Moran, 2002; Choo et al., 2010).

Gamer Behaviors and Preferences

In general, Chinese gamers preferred to play video games on their computers or cell phones. In the United States, computers and consoles were more popular over handheld or mobile phone games (Phan, Jardina, & Hoyle, 2012). Puzzle, card, and chess games were the most popular type of game for females in China and the second most popular type for girls in the United States after social games (Phan, Jardina, & Hoyle, 2012). For males in China shooters were the most popular genre, compared to strategy games for males in the United States (Phan, Jardina, & Hoyle, 2012). Most Chinese players preferred not to pay for things in games and didn’t typically participate in video game communities. Wasting time and playing with friends were the primary reasons for playing video games, and players typically quit playing because a game was too time-consuming or because they felt the game was too boring.


As with most studies conducted on the prevalence of pathological video gaming, results should be considered under the reality that there is currently no standard definition of problematic gaming, and no universally accepted test to measure problematic gaming. Furthermore, only eight of the original nine PVP items were included in the study, so it is possible that excluding items while maintaining the score cut-off of five could lead to conservative estimates. It is also difficult to tell how including “sometimes” as an answer option could influence scores, although Gentile (2009) alleged that its reliability was close to that of the dichotomous yes/no. Furthermore, this study relied on self-reported problems, and responses could be less than completely reliable.

The sample was also not completely reflective of the population. Distributing the survey on college campuses meant an over-reliance on college-educated respondents, 66.46% in this study, when college attendance in China is about 39.39% (The World Bank). The percentage of males in the population is also closer to 51.27%, according to the 2010 census, while the sample had only a 48.9% representation.

This study also did not consider the possibility that a respondent’s problematic video gaming may be caused by an expectable response to a stress condition such as death of a love one, abuse, neglect, or divorce, or even cultural factors such as over-emphasis on scholastic success and the one child policy. Bax (2015) reports that attraction to online games could stem from a child’s reaction to their parent’s smothering (a result of the one child policy, the excessively competitive education system, and the rise in materialism and consumerism) and the way they partly chain their affection to academic performance.

Tao likens the predicament of children to that of a little donkey: “The teacher grabs his two long ears and pulls and pulls. The parents get behind and push and push” (Funk, 2007). Meanwhile, in video games and online, children and teenagers can curse if they want, fight if they want, even marry if they want. Therefore, “feelings of frustration, anger, and powerlessness often exist prior to their gaming and that alienated youth bond in the virtual world in order to find a sense of community and belonging” (Bax, 2015, p. 6).
Future Studies
The results of the study show that additional investigation is warranted, as the potential rate of problematic gaming in the population could be higher than previously expected or reported. As China opens its borders to foreign video game imports, it is important for companies to learn about the emerging Chinese market, their preferences and interests. It is also important for Chinese parents, teachers, and health officials to be aware of not only the prevalence and risk factors of pathological gaming, but most importantly how to preventatively handle the problem and to treat it. That electro-shock therapy was banned and yet persists (Ma, 2016) and that there are reports of deaths in internet addiction rehabilitation camps (Tudela, 2013) indicates that the Chinese government and health officials need to focus on appropriate care for patients, and proper education for families and directors of those kinds of facilities. How gaming addiction might be “co-produced” with larger social and political issues in contemporary China should also be considered, especially with regard to treatment. That particular question of how to proceed is beyond the scope of this study, but as China becomes a bigger player on the video game stage, more research and understanding will be required in the future to ensure the success of hopeful companies and the health and safety of consumers.

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