In the 11th Edition of the World Heath Organization’s (WHO) International Classification of Diseases, “gaming disorder” made an appearance as a new medical health condition under the “disorders due to addictive behaviours” section. Now, as an avid Gamer, immediately after hearing this news I was appalled, as I assumed (like every millennial does) that this was pertaining to me. However, I soon realized this is for extreme cases. After thinking about those long nights of saying “just one more game” or, “I’ll quit after the next mission,” I can see where the stigma of gaming as a “mental health condition” or “addiction” comes from.
What IS “Gaming Disorder”
First off, let’s take a minute and determine what this mental health condition is really classified as. WHO states that gaming disorder is ” characterized by a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour (‘digital gaming’ or ‘video-gaming’), which may be online (i.e., over the internet) or offline.” It goes on to state that these conditions are manifested by:
- impaired control over gaming (e.g., onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination, context);
- increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities; and
- continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences. The behaviour pattern is of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.
If this sounds familiar, it is because these conditions are almost identical to those of “gambling disorder,” where patients have little or no self control over their gambling habits. This disorder has been well known and documented over the years, and I can see why WHO classified them both under the “Disorders due to addictive behaviours.”. Some games that have micro-transactions, or “loot boxes” can even be considered gambling, due to the unknown outcome variables they hold. These games have come to the point where some countries, including the US, UK, and China, are trying (and succeeding) to prohibit sales of lootboxes to underage Gamers or to games where the intended audience is minors under 18. These games are allegedly “preying on user addiction” and “exploiting children“.
Furthermore, WHO goes on to say ” The pattern of gaming behaviour may be continuous or episodic and recurrent. The gaming behaviour and other features are normally evident over a period of at least 12 months in order for a diagnosis to be assigned, although the required duration may be shortened if all diagnostic requirements are met and symptoms are severe.” In other words, the disorder has to be present for a long time, and a binge gaming weekend or all nighter once in while cannot be classified as a disorder (unless you do this EVERY DAY/WEEKEND).
There is a sub-category of “ Hazardous substance use ,” titled “Hazardous gaming” that states ” Hazardous gaming refers to a pattern of gaming, either online or offline that appreciably increases the risk of harmful physical or mental health consequences to the individual or to others around this individual. The increased risk may be from the frequency of gaming, from the amount of time spent on these activities, from the neglect of other activities and priorities, from risky behaviours associated with gaming or its context, from the adverse consequences of gaming, or from the combination of these. The pattern of gaming is often persists in spite of awareness of increased risk of harm to the individual or to others. ” TL:DR, If gaming is negatively affecting your health, (i.e. eating habits, personal hygiene, friend and family relationships, profession, sleep deprivation,) you may have a gaming disorder. The good news is that this phenomenon is rarely a problem; Yes, some Gamers may stay up all night playing a game because they find huge enjoyment out of it, but for most cases this does not mean they have an addiction or disorder. If, however, you do this every night, forego sleep, showering, eating right, etc. Then you may want to seek medical help. But, if you are gaming all the time and don’t have time to even eat or shower, you are most likely not reading this Blog……so maybe this point is mute…..
What About Professional Gamers?
Does this mean that the Pro League of Legends, Overwatch, DOTA, and Call of Duty players all have mental disorders? Absolutely not! There is quite a big difference between being dedicated to a game as a career choice, and having a gaming addiction. Professional Gamers study hard, work hard, and play hard, just like any athlete would. Would you consider a professional Soccer, Hockey, or Football player addicted to said game, therefore having a mental disorder? NO! You should think of eSports the way you think of the NHL, NBA, or NFL: Professional teams are competing to be the best in the world in their respective fields.
What About the Average Gamer?
If you enjoy playing video games as a stress release, a way to interact with your friends, or even a hobby, then I would not worry about having a “gaming disorder.” The prevalence of gaming disorders is quite low among the gaming population, so as long as you are still eating, maintaining SOME level of hygiene, and not shutting out all of your friends and family because you just HAVE to go home and beat the Halo 3 campaign on legendary for the 6th time this month, then you have nothing to worry about. This classification will not stop me from playing my favourite games with my friends, or trying to climb the multiplayer leaderboards to be the best I can be, and I hope this is the same for you fellow Gamers out there.
Do you think the WHO is going overboard with this “disorder?” Do you think the addiction habits incorporated in this illness are specific to only Gamers? Sound off below and let me hear what you think!