International health officials are set to classify excessive video-game playing as a mental health disorder — and parents who gave out games as gifts this year may want to take note.
The World Health Organization is in the process of finalizing the 11th update of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), a guide that describes different health problems and their symptoms. The latest draft version of the new ICD includes an entry for “gaming disorder,” which is essentially video-game addiction, as Forbes first reported.
The disorder is marked by “persistent or recurrent gaming behavior” that makes playing games more important than other activities despite the negative repercussions. “The behavior pattern is of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning,” the disorder’s description states.
The new ICD will be finalized next year and, if gaming disorder is included, it could be a watershed. Up until now, addiction to video games has not been formally recognized as a health problem by experts. The American Psychiatric Association considered “internet gaming disorder” when putting together the fifth edition of the DSM, its guide to mental health conditions, but said more research was needed before it could be formally recognized, CNN reported.
Nevertheless, numerous researchers have indicated that a significant portion of video game players may be addicted. Indeed, a treatment center dedicated to people who are hooked on video games exists. There is also the self-help group On-Line Gamers Anonymous, which was started by a woman who believes her son committed suicide as a result of his gaming addiction.
While formal treatment options exist, they can be expensive given that many insurers won’t cover them because of the fact that gaming addiction is not a formally recognized problem, according to the Washington Post.
To some extent, video-game addiction could be a reflection of people’s growing dependence on technology. Nearly two in five millennials say they interact with their phones more than with their loved ones. And it’s not just kids who are becoming addicted to screen — parents with children between the ages of 8 and 18 spend more than 9 hours a day with screen media, according to a report from Common Sense Media, a San Francisco-based organization that examines the impact of technology and media on families.
Some researchers in the mental health community argue that quickly formalizing video-game addiction as a health problem could be dangerous. Earlier this year, researchers from the American Psychological Associations criticized the efforts on the part of WHO and the American Psychiatric Association to codify this disorder — in part because that end goal is influencing research into the problems caused by excessively playing video games.
The researchers argued that current studies regarding video game addiction are based on principles of substance abuse approaches, despite the fact that drug or alcohol use is different from media consumption.
Furthermore, existing research about video-game addiction has not been conclusive, Anthony M. Bean, a Texas-based clinical psychologist and one of the report’s authors, told gaming news site Polygon. “In the whole field of ‘video game addiction,’ the incidence ranges all the way from 0.8 percent all the way up to 50 percent of the gaming population, depending on which study you decide to look at,” Bean told Polygon.
Bean also warned that creating a gaming disorder could stigmatize playing video games, despite the fact that that for some people video games can be helpful. Playing Tetris, for example, has been shown to help with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. “Maybe the person’s actually depressed and using video games as a coping mechanism, or a mechanism with which to deal with some personal stress in the world,” he said. Along those same lines, excessive playing could be indicative of another mental health problem, such as depression or anxiety.
Indeed, some scientists believe that video games could be designed as teaching tools or to help people improve real-life skills such as hand-eye coordination.
Lifehacker staff writer Patrick Allan has created a guide on how to cut back on the amount of time someone spends playing video games. Parents of children who seem to be “addicted” to their PlayStation of Xbox can glean some useful guidance from it.
For starters, Allan recommended tracking how much time the gamer spends playing —through a log or spreadsheet — to help the person realize how often they play and to get a sense of whether it’s a problem. He also suggests setting limits such as only playing on certain days or avoiding in-game purchases, and avoiding games that require a larger time investment.
Finally, Allan warns that people who are concerned about playing video games too much should consider whether they’re actively avoiding something in the real world and work to address that instead. “If work was getting me down, I’d make an actionable plan on how to improve it instead of grabbing a controller,” Allan wrote.