Is Gaming Addiction a Real Mental Health Disorder?
The World Is Changing
I grew up in the 80s, when the norm was to play outside until the street lamps flickered. Staying in was mostly unheard of and certainly not cool! Pocket money was spent on sweets to share with your pals—typically at a sleepover in your parent's shed or garage that you painstakingly decorated into a work of art!
Homework was written in a book and researched in a library. Schools would confiscate your time as punishment, not your phone. Street parties, carnivals and village fêtes would be organised by many and attended by all. Yes, times really have changed. Technology has taken over, and the world is becoming obsessed with building an online presence.
Nowadays, kids rush home to log on to their Xbox or Playstation. Socialising is chatting online to 'cyber pals' that they have never met, and probably never will. Pocket money is spent on Minecraft Skins or V-Bucks. 'Being cool' is learning the latest Fortnite dance moves.
For a gamer these days, getting fresh air means cracking open a window. Socialising in person has been replaced with online social media. Technologies are replacing jobs. The younger generation generally prefer less involvement with outdoor sports or organising community events. They may attend, but only with their iPhone attached to their hands!
The world is changing. And it's affecting our mental health!
Is Internet Gaming a Mental Health Disorder?
Although it isn't officially classified as a disorder in the United States, what the American Psychiatry Association (APA) calls Internet Gaming Disorder is listed as a "Condition for Further Study" in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5, 2013). However, it is seen as a more serious problem internationally. In September 2018, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that the latest edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) includes "gaming disorder" in the section on addictive disorders.
Some may argue that you can not become addicted to online gaming. After all, gaming is not a drug like heroin and alcohol. For those of us that do not obsess over games and consoles, we simply don't understand how anyone could possibly be so obsessed. However, as I've already stated, the world is changing, and physicians around the globe are starting to see more and more people seek help.
Agree or disagree, online gaming addiction is becoming recognised as a mental health disorder.
How Is Gaming Addiction Diagnosed?
There are several criteria for the diagnosis of Internet Gaming Disorder, and they have been subject to a lot of debate—much of it negative—in the healthcare industry.
To be diagnosed with Internet Gaming Disorder, a person would need to meet five of the diagnostic criteria within 12 months.
- Is the person in question playing online games compulsively?
- Are they spending more and more time playing games in order to be satisfied?
- Are they aware of how their gaming has impacted their life but still cannot stop?
- Have they tried but failed to stop?
- Are they displaying withdrawal symptoms if they do not have access to the game?
- Are they ignoring their previous interests and hobbies?
- Do they become distressed as a direct result of the game?
- Is school or work affected?
- Have they lost or risked opportunities and relationships because of their gaming?
Unfortunately, much of these criteria apply to many people who simply enjoy their gaming recreationally. So what distinguishes an addict from an avid gamer? And then there are the other questions...
- How will clinicians diagnose and treat patients with this disorder?
- Will it take away from more pressing issues in the mental health field—to the point where patients with other disorders could become neglected?
- Will people take advantage of the disorder and use it as an excuse for improper behaviours or to claim benefits?
Is There Such a Thing as 'Healthy Online Gaming?'
I'm sure many will disagree, but there are some benefits with certain online games. I personally choose not to immerse myself in online gaming of any kind. I don't have the time or the inclination to learn. I'm an 80s girl—I prefer reality! But I do have children and friends that indulge, and I do believe there are some benefits.
In moderation, participating in online gaming can be educational. I once wrote an article about the Minecraft Education Edition. Using a game-based learning platform has many advantages for teachers and students alike.
Teachers can use games as a resource to develop a child’s interest in subjects the child previously had little or no interest in. This could promote better overall classroom behaviour and management. That's not to say that games such as Minecraft should take over education, but they're a great complement. Unless you have watched someone play it, you truly can't appreciate the learning experience. From problem-solving to enhancing creativity skills, a game that encourages brain stimulation is favoured by parents and teachers.
Then, of course, there are benefits for those that generally struggle with socialising. Online gaming can help an otherwise socially awkward person talk. It can encourage them to hold a discussion that would normally cause great difficulty. When I researched this topic, I discovered that many people with social difficulties were able to build their confidence up enough to socialise in real life—all thanks to online gaming.
I also read stories of sufferers with anxiety and/or depression finding the escapism of online gaming therapeutic. The distraction allowed them some respite, albeit temporary, from their mental health issues.
How Much Gaming Is Too Much?
In short, if it starts to significantly affect other aspects of life—school, work, health, and relationships—it has likely become a problem.
There are pros and cons to anything—online gaming is no exception. Immersing oneself into a virtual world can affect not only the person participating, but anyone living with that person. Fixating on online games can preoccupy the mind to such an extent that it is no longer considered 'normal' or 'healthy'.
It could affect your schooling, job, and life in general. The obsessional need to play the game is all that you can think of—morning, noon, and night! A child may become severely agitated when asked to stop playing. Behavioural problems can escalate at school and at home, affecting sleep and school work. Interest in hobbies and other activities can diminish. The child becomes completely and utterly preoccupied with their online game.
Adults may experience similar traits, but as an adult, it's easier to mask—especially if you live alone. Work can be affected. I have read of people losing their job and even choosing to leave their job. Sleep and personal hygiene are often neglected, and interests you previously had are slowly disappearing.
Marriages and relationships also suffer. I, for one, would find it very upsetting living with someone who prefers to play online games then spend time with me! Some adults have been known to get aggressive when confronted about the amount of time spent playing.
Why Is Technology so Important to Us?
Let's face it. We all use technology. Whether for the purpose of entertainment, work, or communication. Many of us use email, social media accounts like Facebook and Instagram, and our mobile phones to keep in contact with the outside world. We all use, and to some extent, need some form of technology in our lives.
I'm using a laptop to write this article and check my work emails. Next to my laptop is my phone (in case the school rings is my excuse!). I have family and friends that I haven't seen for many years. Some live so far away, I accept I may never physically meet them again. But it doesn’t feel like I am missing out because I have the likes of Facebook to keep me connected to them.
Technology does have its advantages. But when does it become an issue?
Leonard, Jayne. (2018, July 16). What is gaming disorder? MedicalNewsToday. Retrieved on October 9, 2018.
Rogers, C. (2018, June 20). Who Calls Gaming Disorder Mental Health Condition. WebMD. Retrieved on October 9, 2018.
WHO Staff. (2018, September). Gaming disorder. World Health Organization. Retrieved on October 8, 2018.
Wiley. (2018, April 10). Everything we know about Internet gaming disorder. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 9, 2018.
Do you believe online gaming addiction should be a recognised mental health diagnosis?
This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
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© 2018 Jennifer Moore