04 – Gaming Addiction: Does It Warrant Its Own ICD Classification?

 

I ran across an article today that grabbed my attention asking in the title ‘Dangerous gaming’: is the WHO right to class excessive video game play as a health disorder?  The World Health Organization has included “gaming disorder” to be added in the next edition of International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11).  Trying to determine what addictive gaming is has been much easier for researchers, scientists, and psychologists to form an agreement. What has been difficult to form a consensus with are questions like is there enough research specifically about gaming addiction, how prevalent is it, how does it parallel with other addictive behaviors, what and how do we classify it, and is gaming addiction a consequence of other serious mental conditions.

 

The article does touch on an aspect of gaming that I can appreciate they mentioned.  Understanding what gaming is in the general media can be confusing even to some gamers since there are so many genres, target audiences, and gaming platforms (cellphones, consoles, PC, handheld etc).  There has been a lot of misinformation over the years in media, for example whether video games increase violent behavior. No direct correlation has been proven, even poorly however. I have known combat veterans personally who have said that playing games like the Arma military simulation series have helped them work through their negative experiences in a constructive method.

 

Another issue is whether parents understand how to gauge what is excessive gaming for their children.  What are reasonable time restrictions to ensure a balance in daily activities or ensuring the content of the game is appropriate?  We’re not all psychologists but parents should trust their instinct in seeking that balance when they’re well informed and engaged in direct supervision of their children.  One honest answer is that every situation is different. With the creation of the ESRB, it served as a guide to educate parents in making better informed choices when selecting content for their children.  In the YouTube video where Senator Clinton speaks about video games (when Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas received a lot of controversy), there is often an omitted aspect of gaming by those who know little about gaming. Many video games provide a rigorous method of problem solving and teamwork, not to forget creating online friends even if you never meet them in person.  Not all games are created equally and thus cannot be all classified together at extremes like the Grand Theft Auto series.

 

Yet a few greater issues surface when government intervention occurs where good intent is present (debatable) but misguided restrictions are placed on video game content, or any content.  It assumes that general populous too ignorant to make their own choices and that these laws or restrictions will prevent unwanted behavior. People will make mistakes but you have to make them to learn and gain perspective.  Where there’s a will, there is a way and children will obtain such content; I found a way. These restrictions cannot shield our youth from poor parenting. Laws only tell people what not to do instead of educating them to the possible consequences of such behaviors.  I’m not suggesting by any means of the stretch of the imagination that I find it acceptable for minors to purchase items such as alcohol, tobacco, or adult content either from retail stores. I am promoting the freedom for parents and guardians to make the final decision; spend time with their children for best results.  Be involved, take responsibility. I am also stating that often lawmakers create laws in subjects they are either not well educated in or cherry-pick research that may be inaccurate/limited to further their personal agenda which isn’t always for the greater good of the populous. When content is controlled, only those who are given permission are uncensored while others are censored.  It greatly reduces the opportunities you have as a consumer to choose your own content and increases the difficulty for content creators to produce.

 

Government regulations or restrictions are often placed in an attempt to keep industries from exploiting weaknesses in human behavior.  The gambling aspect some games have injected into their content known as “loot boxes” have caught a lot of attention recently as game developers and publishers attempt to make their games more enticing and profitable.  One of the most well known games to rely too heavily on a “loot box” progression system was EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II, which provided unbalanced advantages to those who purchased this extra content over those with the stock game.  Some governments have set in motion regulations to help protect our youth from these predatory practices but I am not convinced it will provide the best solution.  More parental intervention is an obvious one. The backlash on Reddit that EA faced from angry customers who saw right through their tactics was certainly extremely effective in bringing social awareness.  It taught an important lesson, as we’ve discussed before, to do your homework before purchasing any content so you make an informed choice to avoid buyer’s remorse.  A real system of change will never surface if people continue blindly purchasing EA products. It starts with you, the individual.

 

My step-father who has been a mental health counselor for over 25 years said that everyone is mentally ill to some degree and we all have addictive personalities.  He said this with humility acknowledging that the human mind is complex as is life and the struggles of the human condition. Establishing direct correlation with cause and effect scenarios can be difficult.  He used to joke “If we have serial killers should that suggest we ban milk?” I am on the fence whether game addiction should earn its own disorder classification because I know one ramification is that it will be expensive to implement and treat.  I do believe that the addiction stems from other mental issues as a consequence. Where drug addiction shares some of the very same parallels, I know that having a purpose in life both with friends, family, and you community will quell these addictions or ‘escapes from reality’.  I had a friend whose brother was a drug addict. I said the best advice I can give you is keep yourself occupied with meaningful tasks. You won’t have time to slip back into destructive behaviors. He told me later that it was a helpful strategy to adopt. So the saying goes “Idle hands make the devil’s work”.

 

I have certainly found myself being swept up for more continuous hours in a game on more than one occasion that I’d like to admit.  But as the article states, admitting is the first step to recognizing that you may have a problem worth seeking help for, or at least adjusting your lifestyle.  I have been honest with myself that being much less socially active as an introvert versus my extrovert counterparts has led me to a path that is easier to defend the hours I spend playing video games.  However it is a weak defense and one I must relinquish to accomplish a balanced purpose in life. We must recognize other aspects of our lives can consume us and often are designed to do so such as social media or cell phones.  There is no single culprit but there are reasonable solutions and every person’s case yields different circumstances.

 

We would appreciate your feedback with any comments, questions, concerns, or suggestions.  If you have any stories of gaming addiction you or someone you know have overcome please let us know.  We want to hear your voice and share it. This is a topic I plan returning to in the future as I learn more about it and find additional sources.  It is complex but one highly worth bringing awareness to. Check out this Ted Talk and see what you think.

 

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