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A certain segment of the American population, though fewer as the years go by, will remember the Atari 2600, the first home videogame console on the market, released around 1980.
Obviously, this was pre-internet when it wasn’t uncommon to see at least a few neighborhood arcades where kids, pockets sagging with quarters, played videogames like Galaga and Pac-Man, among others.
Today, the global gaming industry is worth more than $180 billion with an estimated 2.6 billion devoted gamers, two-thirds of which are from American households.
It might not come as a surprise then to learn that the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 11th edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), released in June, included a new classification of addiction called “Gaming Disorder.”
What is Gaming Disorder?
“Gaming disorder, with its online and offline variants,” reports the WHO, “[is] a clinically recognizable and clinically significant syndrome, when the pattern of gaming behavior is of such a nature and intensity that it results in marked distress or significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational or occupational functioning.”
The American Psychiatric Association, which publishes the so-called “bible of psychiatry,” the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), stopped just shy of including a “gaming disorder” in its most recent guide. The DSM-5 does include internet gambling disorder, however.
Advocates of the WHO’s new “gaming disorder” diagnosis suggest troubled gamers and their loved ones will now be more willing to seek help, while more therapists will see the condition as legitimate and serious.
“It’s going to untie our hands in terms of treatment, in that we’ll be able to treat patients and get reimbursed,” Dr. Petros Levounis, psychiatry chairman at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, told The New York Times. “We won’t have to go dancing around the issue, calling it depression or anxiety or some other consequence of the issue but note the issue itself.”
The Washington Post reports that several studies draw a link between behavioral addictions, like “gaming disorder,” and substance addictions.
Brain imaging shows that regions in the brain associated with alcoholism and drug addiction also light up addicted gamers. There’s even evidence to suggest that people with existing psychiatric issues are at a higher risk for developing “gaming disorder.”
Gaming Addiction Symptoms
Signs that a person could be addicted to gaming include some of the following:
- An increased amount of time gaming, playing for longer and longer periods before being satisfied
- A preoccupation with internet gaming
- Failed attempts to cut back or stop playing games
- A loss of interest in activities or hobbies once enjoyed because of gaming
- Lying about the amount of time spent gaming online
- Lost relationships as a consequence of spending too much gaming
Not everyone is convinced, though, that “gaming disorder” is a legitimate diagnosis, most especially the gaming industry.
Opposition to the Gaming Disorder Distinction
In March 2018, the Entertainment Software Association called the WHO’s new classification “deeply flawed.”
Even some healthcare professionals are unsure of what a treatment approach to “gaming disorder” looks like.
“There really hasn’t been a good study of what kind of treatment works,” Andrew Saxon, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, told the Washington Post.
Other experts believe cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps patients identify problematic choices and activities develop strategies to change their behavior.
Centers for gaming addiction and rehabilitation popped up in Asia years ago.
South Korea, perhaps the most plugged-in nation in the world, even bars minors from gaming portals between midnight and early morning hours. They also subsidize gaming treatment clinics.
Insurance companies, treatment facilities and the healthcare industry in the United States, however, haven’t reacted as quickly, much to the frustration of some parents and other loved ones living with a problem gamer.
But the inclusion of “gaming disorder” in the WHO’s ICD-11 brings the global community at least one step closer to recognizing and treating a disorder that can cause significant suffering.