Recently the World Health Organization (WHO) has moved to include gaming disorder as part of the 11th revision of their International Classification of Diseases. According to their website, gaming disorder is defined as “a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by 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.” It goes on to say that, to be classified as a disorder, the amount of gaming must be severe enough to impair a person’s functioning in daily life for a time period of at least twelve months.
My initial reaction to this, of course, was an instinctual dislike. Video games are one of my primary hobbies, and have been since I was a kid. So when I heard that gaming disorder was going to be an officially recognized thing, I immediately thought that it couldn’t be good. And the interesting thing is that the pushback against the classification didn’t just come from people who play video games. It also came from medical experts who believe that the WHO’s definition of gaming disorder is too vague and too broad.
However, at the same time, the classification does make sense. There are people out there who definitely spend far too much time on video games, so much so that it starts to take precedence over everything else. And we are long overdue for a conversation about mental health in this country. Because while conservative politicians love to blame mental health issues for mass shooting events, they never seem to actually DO anything about it.
But that’s a rant for another time.
Gaming addiction is not a new issue, especially in places like South Korea where it has become such a problem that they even have gaming addiction rehabilitation clinics. So it’s definitely something worth talking about. But on the other hand, there’s the media, who have a long and storied history of being slanted against video games. For instance, here’s this story from the BBC, which was originally titled “Computer game addiction: ‘I spend 20 plus hours a week gaming”.
Pffft…that’s weak. Get real kids. Twenty hours is nothing. You hear me? Nothing!
In all seriousness, if you actually watch the video, it at least explains that the kid who plays “20 plus hours” a week is part of a healthy crowd of friends. But if all you see is the headline, your perception of that “20 plus hours” is going to be much different.
And if we’re really going to criticize video games in this way, I think it’s worth noting how we consume another medium: television. According to this New York Times article from back in 2016, a Nielsen study found that, on average, American adults watch five hours of television a day. So per week, that adds up to roughly thirty-five hours of television. Yet we don’t see the WHO coming out with a classification on television watching disorder, or the BBC making a video about people addicted to television. And the only major reason I can think of for this is that watching television is a normalized thing, whereas video games are still seen as a kind of weird new thing that people don’t understand.
This is to say nothing about the fact that binge-watching is not only a term, but a socially acceptable one. When “Stranger Things” season 2 came out, over three hundred thousand people watched the entire season in one day. But of course we’re not raising a stink about this. We might scoff and say “get a life”, but our condemnation never goes much beyond that.
I should mention here that even the WHO recognizes that the number of those afflicted with this gaming disorder are a very small percentage of the people who play video games regularly. And I’m willing to bet that, more often than not, the root cause of the addiction lies not with the games themselves, but with something in that person’s life that has forced them to retreat into their hobby. Because video games are typically used as a way to cope with the stresses of life, something I can attest to personally. While there are some games that are designed to entice players to keep playing regularly over months and even years, we need to understand that the extreme form of addiction the WHO is talking about is not the norm, especially in a country where the statistic of watching over thirty hours of television a week is accepted without so much as a second thought.
In the end, it’s possible to have an unhealthy addiction to pretty much anything. And it’s time we accepted that instead of adhering to this stodgy old idea of “everything was better when I was growing up and anything new in these kid’s lives is clearly bad for them”.
Because the world is going to change, whether we like it or not.
Thanks for reading! Check back on the third Wednesday of next month for another post, and as always, have a wonderful day.