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Is video game addiction causing divorce?

Eurogamer investigates Daily Mail report.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

A study conducted by Divorce Online, reported in the Daily Mail this morning, suggests that 15 per cent of divorce proceedings initiated with the company are a result of video game addiction.

Further investigation by Eurogamer has revealed that of the 2941 divorce petitions handled by the firm in the period of the study (January-April 2011), 1176 were filed based on unreasonable behaviour. A random selection of 200 petitions were then filtered for the word 'video game' with approximately 30 positive results.

However, in conversation with Eurogamer this morning, Mark Keenan, managing director of Divorce Online, explained that at least three or four reasons are needed by the courts in order for a petition to be successful. While 30 of the 200 petitions cited video game addiction as the primary reason, the most common other reasons included a lack of love and affection, an inability to deal with debts, alcohol and drug problems, and a lack of common interests.

The firm's press release suggests that other, indirect factors may also be at work: "The increase could be a consequence of people staying indoors more because of the recession, or it might be being used by men in particular as a means of escape from an already unhappy relationship."

On 17th May the company placed an appeal on Facebook, offering £250 for stories used in the press. Keenan explained that these case stories were solicited "in order to add a bit more weight to the press release. We wanted people to give us some case studies".

Jessica Ellis, quoted in the Daily Mail report, is a recent client of the firm and had been in a relationship with her husband for four-and-a-half years. After two-and-a-half years of marriage, and shortly after relocation to the United Kingdom, the marriage broke down. In 2009 they divorced. In the Daily Mail report, Blizzard MMO World of Warcraft and Call of Duty are blamed.

Eurogamer spoke to her this afternoon.

"In my circumstances, it had nothing to do with the recession whatsoever," she explained. "My husband and I recently moved over from South Africa, so for him it was a connection to his friends back home. I think it was particularly bad during winter, so the staying home part might be relevant. But the main reason was to stay connected to his friends."

Did he have a network of friends in the UK or was he dependent on the game for social interaction? "No he didn't have any connections here, it was all South Africa. They had their own guild."

"Basically, WOW was the beginning of the end, so that was a breakdown of communication and a lack of a lot of different things. Obviously it wasn't the primary reason but it lead to all of the problems."

Blizzard declined to comment on the report.

Late last year games industry trade association TIGA hit back at BBC Panorama's high-profile investigation into video game addiction.

In 'Addicted to Games?' Panorama "hears from youngsters who've dropped out of school and university to play games for anything up to 21 hours a day".

"There is absolutely no proven link between video games and addiction," Dr. Richard Wilson, TIGA CEO, said. "The World Health Organisation has no official medical diagnosis of video games addiction. Playing games is a hobby and people can certainly become passionate about them. This is no different from a passion for a particular book, TV programme or sport. In addition, playing games such as Wii Sports of Xbox Kinect can improve fitness. Games can also be educational. A fifth of UK games businesses make educational or serious games."

Blizzard told Panorama in a statement: "Our games are designed to be fun... but like all forms of entertainment... day-to-day life should always take precedence. World of Warcraft contains practical tools that assist players and parents in monitoring playing time."

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