Adelphi professor Geoffrey Ream discusses the game's addictive qualities and whether it is making our society more violent.


With their far-reaching appeal, video games have propelled a $21 billion industry. The average gamer is 34 years old and spends eight hours per week playing video games, according to the Entertainment Software Ratings Board. With the recent release of Rockstar Games’ wildly popular Grand Theft Auto V, video games are once again in the forefront, with the violent open-world shooter generating more than $1 billion in sales after just three days.

We asked Geoffrey Ream, Ph.D., an associate professor at Adelphi University’s School of Social Work, about the game, its seemingly addictive qualities and whether it is making our society more violent. His response is excerpted here.

“What I have to say about Grand Theft Auto V, I should preface by saying I love role-playing Games. My research suggests the game feature most reliably associated with particularly high propensity for problem video game play (i.e., addiction), after accounting for other characteristics of the player and general video game playing patterns, is identification with a fictional character. Personally, I can see why. The video game is a medium—like a printed page—through which you can go anywhere and be anyone, packing unlimited additional lifetimes into your lifetime.

This having been said, I think Grand Theft Auto is disgusting. I mean, who wants to role-play a sociopathic miscreant who gallivants around an ugly, dystopian city miserably squishing homeless people with a stolen fire engine?…My issue isn’t with video games in general; there isn’t much that can be said about video games in general except that they’re all video games. Video games are a medium for communication.

With that said, though, we can look critically at what’s being communicated through that medium. My own research was on addiction, not violence, but the research on violence is pretty clear that violent media [aren’t] harmless. The abstract from a 2010 Psychological Bulletin article states, “The evidence strongly suggests that exposure to violent video games is a causal risk factor for increased aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, and aggressive affect and for decreased empathy and prosocial behavior.” This effect remains after accounting for how violent people might prefer violent media (the reverse causation problem) or how something about their temperament or background might predispose them to both violent media consumption and violence (the third variable problem). This isn’t going away.

Talking about video game addiction, an objection that I frequently had to deal with in my research could be summed up as, “…really?” People just didn’t buy it. Obviously, there’s a distinction between “behavioral addiction,” which is training of the body’s own chemistry, and substance dependence, which involves putting a chemical into the body enough times that the body adjusts to its presence.

When it comes to the question of whether video game addiction should be diagnosed and treated, my own feeling is that people who have behavior patterns that they want to change should have access to help that will improve their quality of life. Treatment of video game addiction, however, gets results that improve people’s quality of life. South Korea is doing some great things with this. The idea of video game addiction is, therefore, arguably empowering, because it creates a basis for behavioral change interventions for people who could benefit from them.”

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