Playing video games for hours on end may be bad for your health, but, according to an Australian study, it doesn't mean you are a lonely nerd and won't damage your social skills.
The study, by Australian psychology graduate Daniel Loton, found that 15 percent of 621 adult respondents to an online survey were identified as "problem gamers" who spend more than 50 hours a week playing games.
But only one percent of those gamers appeared to have poor social skills, specifically shyness, Loton said, contradicting the stereotype that video game fans tend to be lonely, geeky, and addicted to gaming because they are unable to socialize.
"Our findings strongly suggest that gaming doesn't cause social problems, and social problems are not driving people to gaming," Loton, from Victoria University, told Reuters.
"What is important to note is that even problem gamers did not exhibit significant signs of poor social skills or low self-esteem."
Loton said the characteristics that might define a problem gamer include an intrusive preoccupation with gaming -- where the amount of time spent playing is affecting work, sleep, and close relationships -- and an inability to stop playing.
Problem gamers were more likely to be involved in Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) such as the genre classic "Ultima Online" or "World of Warcraft," which has some 10 million subscribers worldwide, the research found.
Loton, who admitted that he has always played video games, spent the last two years conducting the study, which was based on mainly Australian and mainly male respondents.
His questionnaire included scales to measure social skills, self-esteem and determine "problematic" and "dependence forming" play.
"My analysis showed only tiny relationships, that is less than 5 percent of variation in problem play scores, was explained by social skills," he said.
The findings come after widely reported statements made last year by the American Medical Association (AMA), which labeled MMORPG gamers as "somewhat marginalized socially, perhaps experiencing high levels of emotional loneliness and/or difficulty with real life social interactions."
Citing concerns of video game overuse, the AMA is likely to consider adding "video game addiction" to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders at its 2012 review.
But Loton said calling excessive gaming an addiction may be taking it a step too far.
"There is a great deal of anecdotal evidence about gaming addiction. Online forums abound with tales of people who can't get off the computer," he said.
"But from a clinical point of view, an addiction is a mental illness with very serious consequences. In this context, we need to ask whether gaming is responsible for causing people's lives to fall apart in the same way we see with gambling, alcohol or drug addiction."