The addition of gaming disorder to the WHO or World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases has led to quite the debate, with many arguing that gaming should not fall under that category. Many believe that this is just another attempt to stigmatize gaming yet again.
There’s no denying that there are cases, a minority of players, who have indeed found the urge to game compulsively and neglect just about everything else in their lives. The issue that experts disagree on here is whether that’s enough to constitute an “addiction” to games, or whether the excessive gaming is simply a symptom of another deeper issue.
Why does this question arise? Well, consider other addictions. Smoking for example, smoke too much and you begin to crave cigarettes. It becomes very difficult to stop, even when you know full well how bad it is for your health. Now if you look at gaming in the same light, having played games for years and having racked up hour after hour on games, you will find many who will tell you that it doesn’t affect the quality of their life in the slightest. While psychologists agree that substance addictions make sense, like in the case of smoking, nicotine, behavioral addictions are a bit more icky.
Gambling was the first such addiction to become diagnosable, way back in 1980. Gambling addiction would be later reclassified as “gambling disorder” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’ new behavioral category as recently as 2013. This made it the first non-substance based disorder to be officially recognized on the DSM.
The reason, of course, was the similarity in genetic predispositions shared by both gamblers and drug addicts. Both also suffered withdrawal when separated from the addicted substance or behavior. This is what has paved the way to now, and gaming disorder which recently got confirmed by WHO. This has naturally caused a lot of anger within the gaming community, who feel their hobby is stigmatized enough by the world. Now they have to worry about their parents sending them to therapy just because they have thousands of hours clocked on Skyrim.
However, this doesn’t take away from the fact that gaming disorder might be a real problem for a very small subset of gamers.
In the definition according to the WHO, gaming disorder is characterized by an “impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.” They also added that the habit should impact the gamer’s social, educational, and occupational lives for about a year. This, some argue, is too vague. Add to that the fact that most AAA games these days are designed to be time and money sinks, you can see where this is going.
Psychologists who study the effects of gaming have said that while video game addiction might be a real thing, we may be blowing it out of proportion here. In a paper by one such psychologist (read here: https://dgit.in/gdno), it mentions that classifying gaming addiction as such, risks “pathologizing normal behavior”. This basically means that behavior we thought normal until now, could be classified as addictive behavior. A very, very small percentage of players are at risk of becoming addicts to the point of ruining their lives.
It’s not just psychologists though. In those who have been “gaming addicts” and are recovering, it was found that they simply used gaming as a means of escape, the same as the ones who would fall on drugs or alcohol. While most usually suffered from underlying problems like depression or anxiety, gaming was far from the cause of the problems in their lives. Many fear that this might cause people to stop at gaming, pin the blame on that, and not bother looking deeper.
Some psychologists, like Dr. Douglas Gentile, say that it works two ways. While gaming may initially have been an escape, when it escalates to the point where it starts negatively impacting your real life, then it counts as a disorder.
Of course, the fact that games nowadays are constantly attempting to lure you in to spend more time and money does not help, especially when you’re trying to find an escape. The big pushback gaming saw against loot boxes was definitely a step in the right direction in this aspect. Unfortunately, over the years, especially since the loot box debacle, there has been a negative view about gaming in general. There are a lot of stories on mainstream media of late, with parents talking about how their children are addicted to games like Fortnite or Minecraft. This has made the gaming community, as a whole, quite defensive. This is, of course, not without reason. A community that’s used to being stigmatized will naturally go on the defensive, and the current situation is not unlike situations in the past, like in the 90s when violent video games like Mortal Kombat and Golden Eye were “sure to turn children into mass murderers”.
While we can’t take away from the harm gaming can do to people if they’re truly addicted (the saying, “everything in moderation” comes to mind), does it justify the gaming disorder classification? In our opinion, if it’s more clearly defined, then maybe. What are you thoughts?
Manish "Trigger-Happy" Rajesh
If he's not gaming, he's... no wait he's always gaming.