Gaming disorder – a real problem or another jab at the video games industry?

By Jasmin on Jan 8, 2018

Image: Irish Times
Image: Irish Times

When I was given this topic to write, I immediately got really excited. I’m currently pursuing my Bachelor’s in Psychology, so that little fact should show well enough why I’m quite excited to write this piece. I will tell you straight up that if you’re a parent reading this article looking for another excuse to not let your kids play video games full-stop, you won’t find them here. Really the problem isn’t with video games, the problem is in our psyche as humans and it’s in how you, dear parent reading this article, raise your kids in this day and age of technology.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has released a new list of classified diseases in its draft for the 11th edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) in its first major update since 1992 and ‘gaming disorder’ is one of them. They defined this ‘gaming disorder’ as continual gaming behaviour that goes to the extent of taking over life responsibilities and the continuation of the behaviour despite the ‘occurrence of negative consequences’.

WHO had also listed ‘hazardous gaming’ as a disorder, defining it as the ‘pattern of gaming … which increases the risk of harmful physical or mental health consequences to the individual or others around the individual’. Both of these disorders sound to me like any other addictive behaviour, whether its substance abuse or gambling, and we all know how dangerous those behaviours are to ourselves and to others when in done in the extremes.

Look it’s the prince of England playing video games. He can’t be addicted, can he? Image: Hello Magazine
Look it’s the prince of England playing video games. He can’t be addicted, can he? Image: Hello Magazine

While the news practically broke just yesterday (as of writing this article), games enthusiasts and psychologists alike are already in heated debates about whether or not this classification is appropriate to be called a mental health issue on top of whether or not this classification undermines mental health studies. One of the loudest voices against this decision is from the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), best known for organizing mega entertainment and games conference E3, said in a statement to Gamasutra:

“The World Health Organization knows that common sense and objective research prove video games are not addictive. And, putting that official label on them recklessly trivializes real mental health issues like depression and social anxiety disorder, which deserve treatment and the full attention of the medical community.

While I cannot tell you how many gamers are psychologists (or vice versa), what I can tell you is that there’s way too much evidence showing how excessive gaming behaviours can cause serious problems, to the extent of actual death. Again, this sounds just like any other excessive consumption of anything. I mean even too much water can kill you, and yet H20 is incredibly important in keeping our cells hydrated. But gaming isn’t water, water doesn’t have any addictive properties, so excessive gaming is really an addiction in my book.

It is also important to note that an attempt at ‘fixing’ the problem has been happening for many years. Though results have been more like ‘quelling’, really. The government in e-sports master making factory, South Korea, have laws banning individuals under the age of 16 to access games between 00:00 and 06:00 as players sign-up using their ID numbers. Gamers in Japan will get alerted if they game for more than a certain hours a month while in China, tech giant Tencent limits the number of hours children are allowed play its most popular games like Arena of Valor. For some reason, I vaguely remember when I used to play Ragnarok Online as a kid, servers would shut down during the night – but I’m happy to be proven wrong about that. I’m always up for a friendly debate/discussion.

Yes, I do occasionally play AOV like when I need a screenshot for an article. Jazker is my gamertag and I owned that match just for you <3
Yes, I do occasionally play AOV like when I need a screenshot for an article. Jazker is my gamertag and I owned that match just for you <3

It’s also important to note that the ICD-11 is currently just a draft and in the end, these disorders might not even end up in the finalized version. I’m a strong advocate in acknowledging that mental health exists and it is just as important as physical health, maybe even more so. Addiction should be treated as a mental disorder, no matter what an individual may be addicted to, just like depression or schizophrenia. Now I’m not saying that all gamers are addicted to video games, just like how not all alcohol-drinkers have a drinking problem and not everyone who enjoys the odd game of poker has a gambling disorder. In each of those categories, there is only a small percentage of people who are in the extremities. When something gets in the way of someone living out a normal life, they need help and I can’t emphasize that enough.

When speaking to the BBC, Dr Richard Graham, a lead technology addiction specialist, says that he welcomes the decision to recognize the condition and that it ‘creates the opportunity for more specialized services. It puts it on the map as something to take seriously’ and I very well agree with Dr Graham. Having disorders defined in the WHO database is really a good thing in my opinion – it means that there is a global organization has recognized that there is a problem, and you can’t deny that there is, so now there can be proper, specialized services to treat it, just like any physical disease. Now with that said, I’m going to relax with a couple of quick rounds on Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite. I hope you have a lovely day!

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Jasmin
About the Author
Writer, photographer, music lover, friend of the animals, adventurer and PC gamer by circumstance (no, really). RPGs and fighters are my favs, I'll beat you at MK or MvC anyday. Judging all the cups of coffee, even the ones made by myself.
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