Does playing games lead to depression and suicide?

Popular virtual suicide site

Popular virtual suicide site*

In “The Lonely End of a Cyberjunkie” (paywall), The Sunday Times all but blames games like World of Warcraft in the death of Robin Williams. The article says:

“On the surface, Williams had everything: a beautiful wife and three children he adored, multiple homes and shares in his late brother’s vineyard, Toad Hollow. Apart from gaming, his passions included rugby and Radiohead, and despite health problems he could cycle a 40-mile local route known as Paradise Loop.”

Somehow, I don’t think that the article is about to blame his suicide on either compulsive cycling or loudly listening to “Paranoid Android” too many times. The article explains the depth of his addiction:

“He had taken up games in the 1980s as obsessively as he approached everything. He named his only daughter Zelda after a character from the Nintendo series.
Military games were Williams’s favourites: he would go online as a lone sniper in Battlefield 2, where, he said, “the 2 stands for two in the morning”. He loved “trash talking” (goading) players on the war game Call of Duty, which he called “cybercocaine”. He describes being “taken out” by an 11-year-old boy as “very humbling”.
In the fantasy world of Azeroth, the heart of the multiplayer game World of Warcraft, he was familiar among his 100m fellow subscribers as a bold knight undertaking noble quests and slashing enemies with his sword.”

It is remarkable how they make gaming seem so intense and sinister. Imagine if the above paragraphs had read: “Williams obsessively watched hour after hour of Breaking Bad, where drug-related violence is trivialised and the protagonist is known for disposing of his enemies by dissolving their bodies in acid. He also enjoyed watching Game of Thrones, a brutal depiction of sex, incest and dark magic.”

The article explains why it is concentrating on gaming as a possible cause for depression and suicide:

“Several psychological studies have looked into whether “heavy gaming” could be linked to depression. In 2011 a two-year study by Iowa State University found a direct correlation. Researchers concluded that “the depression seemed to follow the gaming” but were hesitant as to whether it was to blame.
A study in Australia is looking at computer gamers who spend more than 21 hours a week playing. Their initial findings show a 25% increase in depression. Daniel Loton, who is heading the study at Victoria University in Melbourne, said the results suggest gaming is a “coping mechanism” rather than the cause of the problem.”

Thankfully we get a small indication that correlation does not mean causations, but the emphasis on depression and gaming is clear; the article is not named “the lonely end of a book reader” after all.

This article is just the latest in a long series of similar attempts to paint gaming as the precursor of social evils, from depression to violent behaviour. The truth is that despite the press citing the same articles over and over, the evidence does not bear the nefarious conclusion that the technophobes would like to draw. While some studies have found negative characteristics amongst gamers, many other have failed to find such correlation, or the existence of a correlation can be explained by other factors 9is it a cause or a symptom?).

Studies that found some problems:

Studies that did not (or results were negligible):

So we can probably agree that the question of depression and gaming is still open. Certainly, it does not warrant the level of coverage that tragic events suicide elicit. Perhaps one day we will finally recognise gaming for what it really is, just another form of entertainment.

*Before Deathwing ruined it for everyone.