Is the latest gaming craze a threat to our youth or just a flash in the pan?
After all, overblown parental alarm is as old as gaming itself. In the '80s, reports warned that arcade aficionados would develop aggressive personalities and a mysterious ailment called "Space Invader Wrist." Moreover, researchers have amassed a troubling body of evidence suggesting compulsive gaming can cause serious harm to kids. Plus, gaming's move to mobile has resulted in problems unthinkable in the console-centric past. After "Pokémon Go" caused thousands of car accidents and the "Fortnite" mobile edition overwhelmed Wi-Fi in some schools, it's tough to argue gaming is not addictive.
In this project, we studied video games' addictive qualities by asking those who know them best. We surveyed over 1,000 hardcore gamers about the types of games and specific titles they've become obsessed with. Our findings take us from current fads to revered classics, exploring which games and platforms are most addictive overall. To see how your gaming compulsions compare to the crowd's, keep reading.
Addictive Games, by Type and Title
Which gaming genres are most likely to inspire obsession? Our respondents offered sharply contrasting opinions on this subject, but role-playing games edged out action-adventure titles for the top spot. The character continuity that RPGs offer serves to keep players engaged, and the genre has inspired cult fandom since dungeon-crawler classics of the '80s. While "battle royale" games represent a relatively new addition to the gaming world, 19% of gamers still named it the most addictive gaming format overall. Industry experts seem to agree: Based on the unprecedented success of titles like "Fortnite" and "PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds," analysts expect battle royale games to generate over $20 billion in revenue in 2019.
In terms of specific games, our respondents found no title so addictive as "Fortnite: Battle Royale." This rides the "freemium" phenomenon that has resulted in the game raking in over $1 billion its first nine months by charging users for in-game upgrades. Our data suggest the game's appeal skews decidedly male, with men far more likely than women to describe it as the most addictive title they'd played. Female respondents generally preferred "World of Warcraft: Legion," the latest multiplayer online game from the brand that has kept users engaged with multiple expansions since the original "World of Warcraft" launch in 2004. Interestingly, women were also more likely than men to describe "Grand Theft Auto V" as addictive, despite criticism that the franchise perpetuates misogynistic stereotypes.
"Overwatch," "Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild," and "League of Legends" rounded out the top six most addictive games overall, but interesting differences in preference by gender continued. Women seemed to appreciate the latest "Zelda" iteration more than their male counterparts, and the opposite was true for "League of Legends." "Overwatch," however, seemed to prompt a similar response from men and women, getting about 13% of each gender's vote for most addictive.
In addition to being voted most addictive, "Fornite: Battle Royale" also extracted the most hours from its players each week. On average, "Fortnite" devotees spend about eight hours each week playing the game – the equivalent of a full workday. This time-consuming attachment could be attributable to the ongoing changes implemented by the game's developers: There's always some novel update to explore. The makers of "Grand Theft Auto V," which ranked third in average playing time, have likewise used minor alterations and Easter eggs to keep gamers engaged with its online platform.
Other time-consuming titles included "World of Warcraft: Legion," "Overwatch," and "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild." In most cases, male and female respondents spent similar amounts of time playing each title, though there were some notable exceptions to this rule. Men spent significantly more time playing "League of Legends" and "PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds" on average. Conversely, women played "Grand Theft Auto V" about two and a half hours longer than their male counterparts, on average.
Commitment to the Classics
In reviewing the titles our respondents deemed most addictive, it's clear that virtual competition dominates contemporary gaming. But long before online multiplayer experiences, gamers were glued to their screens by classic titles played on old school consoles. It's impossible to explore video game nostalgia without acknowledging the contributions of Nintendo, whose NES, Super Nintendo, N64, and Game Boy devices forever altered the lives of '80s and '90s kids worldwide. Despite the powerful graphics potential of modern consoles, today's hardcore gamers have not lost their affection for these pixelated platforms of the past: Nearly 8 in 10 respondents said they own a classic video game console.
The Case for Consoles
There may be significant enthusiasm for classic consoles, but when we asked respondents which platforms were their all-time favorite, we found a general preference for contemporary hardware. PCs marginally surpassed Sony's PlayStation 4 to capture first place in this vote. This preference for computers speaks to a recent trend: Whereas PCs took a back seat to consoles for many years, they've enjoyed a comeback within the gaming community of late. Experts cite a range of reasons for this development, from the rising popularity of esports to the improved graphics capabilities of laptops.
Notably, the PS4 significantly outpaced Xbox One and Switch, the latest offerings from Microsoft and Nintendo respectively. These feelings could be reflected in sales figures: Though console sales have been strong across the board, the PS4 has outsold its competition every year. The opposite was true of the console generation prior, however. While Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii were represented among the most addictive devices, PlayStation 3 did not crack the list.
It seems that the Nintendo Switch may soon enjoy a massive victory: The company's upcoming title, "Super Smash Bros. Ultimate," was the game our respondents were most excited to play. Because the game will incorporate every single character from previous "Super Smash Bros." titles, nostalgia likely figures prominently in its appeal. The second-most anticipated upcoming release, "Fallout 76," is a prequel to the series' earlier titles and the first to employ a shared-world concept. Long-awaited "Kingdom Hearts III" took third place, followed by the second installments of the "The Last of Us" and "Red Dead Redemption" franchises.
Our results suggest gaming obsessions are not overwhelming, whether players become addicted to classic console button-mashers or mobile app battle royales. A significant time investment in gaming isn't an inherent cause for concern: for many players, video games represent a harmless pleasure in their otherwise productive lives. Additionally, virtual competition and collaboration can yield real connections. Though physical distance may divide them, online gamers partake in a shared experience - and have quite a lot of fun while they're at it.
Still, total immersion in fictional competition can have sharp consequences. And as gaming technology continually evolves, concerns about gaming addiction are unlikely to abate. As with many forms of entertainment, video games can certainly distract from daily obligations and opportunities. If achievement in your game of choice comes to outweigh real-world priorities, consider whether your commitment has risen to the level of compulsion. However enthralling it may be, no game is worth losing touch with reality.
For this study, we surveyed 1,000 frequent gamers via Amazon's Mechanical Turk about their video game habits and the most addictive modern and classic video game titles. To ensure frequent gamers were polled, respondents only qualified if they played video games five to seven days per week. 62% of participants identified as male gamers and 38% as female gamers. The most addictive modern and classic video games were determined based on gamer perceptions, and respondents must have played the game in order to rank addictiveness. All games featured in this study have met a minimum sample size of 26 frequent gamers for each.
The results shown in this campaign rely on self-reported data. Statistical testing was not run on claims made in the study. We advise future research to take a more punctilious and thorough approach.
Fair Use Statement
Web content and gaming have a lot in common: They're better when enjoyed with friends. Accordingly, you're welcome to share this project's data and images on your own site or social media. If you do, simply link back to this page to credit our team properly.