Who believes that playing video games can become a mental health disorder? Yes, the World Health Organization, that’s WHO.
“Gaming disorder” isn’t a game or the name of a game. And it isn’t when your “Yes” or “Start” button on your PlayStation controller fails to work, your character is really messy and leaves equipment all over the screen, or you are surrounded by microwaved burritos while playing. Instead, the beta draft of the WHO’s forthcoming 11th update of International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) now includes “gaming disorder” along with the following description:
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, manifested by: 1) impaired control over gaming (e.g., onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination, context); 2) increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities; and 3) 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. 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.
Being in the ICD-11 means that it is officially a health condition, a diagnosis that can be used by doctors, other health care workers, and insurance companies. Some may even call it a label.
Before you get too Madden about this, keep in mind that this is not saying that playing video games is a mental disorder. Plenty of well-adjusted individuals play video games. Depending on the game and when, how often, how long, why, and where you play it, video games can be a safe way of improving hand-eye coordination, enhancing problem solving abilities, relieving stress, connecting people, and living out fantasies as covered here by Daphne Bavelier, a Professor at the University of Geneva:
Classifying an activity as a mental health condition is all about context. Using a plunger on a clogged toilet is a fairly normal activity. Using a toilet plunger on your boss’s head, not so normal. Key phrases in the “gaming diroder” description above are “impaired control over gaming” and “takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities.” Practically any activity, even those seemingly good and necessary, can become mental health issues when you no longer can control the activity and the activity starts interfering with your life. Let’s go back to the toilet plunger. Using a toilet plunger to unclog a toilet and avoid a poo spill is a life helping activity. Using a toilet plunger whenever you see a toilet even while someone else is sitting on the toilet is a life and relationship damaging activity.
Why then specify video games when any activity can be done in excess? The new ICD-11 classification is a reflection of how common video gaming and, in turn, video game addiction have become. A study published in 2009 in Psychological Science found that about 8.5% of American youth from 8 to 18 years old exhibited pathological video game use. Video gaming was affecting important parts of their lives such as school performance. But if you think that video game addiction is mainly an issue for kids, hit the reset button. As reported in 2009, the average video gamer is a 35-year old man. There are numerous stories of adults losing their spouses and jobs while playing video games such as the ones relayed by this 2013 article by Dana Hunsinger Benbow for the USA Today. And as Jesus Diaz pointed out for Gizmodo, guess what Amazon listed as one of the most common items purchased along with the video game Call of Duty 4? A brand of adult diapers. Yes, apparently some video gamers are wearing diapers so that they don’t have to pause their Call of Duty when they are experiencing a call of dooty.
How then can you tell when your gaming habit has become too much? Relationship, school, job, or financial problems certainly are strong clues. But preferably you want to identify an addiction before these problems occur. You could ask yourself the CAGE Questions (frequently used to detect alcohol addiction) with afew modifications (such as replacing the word “drinking” with “gaming” and altering the fourth or “E” question):
- Have you ever felt you should Cut down on your gaming?
- Have people Annoyed you by criticizing your gaming?
- Have you ever felt bad or Guilty about your gaming?
- Are video games usually the first thing you think about in the morning when you wake up (Eye opener)?
Also, check whether your gaming has increased over time and whether there have been accompanying changes in your mood (e.g., becoming moodier, crankier, more irritable, or depressed) and other habits (e.g., you no longer go outside as often or use the toilet). Even if you don’t suspect that you have a problem, trying to cut down on any of your habits for a moment is a good test of how much control you have of your own life.