WHO’s Addicted?

A recent study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) examined the correlation between video game addiction and mental illnesses. In its report, the organization announced that “gaming disorder” would be classified as a new mental health-related issue in the eleventh edition of its International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11).


After this report was released to the public a flood of rage, disheartening comments, and confusion followed; an understandable response when one is called an addict. But let’s look at it from a health standpoint. I have read many comments online debating that 20 hours a week should be more than enough and that any more would be detrimental. While many of us, myself included, can easily play 20 hours or more in a single weekend, while remaining functional, it begs the question: are we all true addicts?


Symptoms for the gaming disorder include impaired control over gaming (frequency, intensity, duration), increased priority given to gaming, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite negative consequences.


In an interview with BBC, Dr. Richard Graham openly welcomed the addition of the diagnosis but was just as quick to point out that there might be some confusion among those who are simply enthusiastic about playing video games.


Graham stated that he sees about 50 new cases of digital addiction each year and the criteria are based on whether the activity is affecting basic bodily functions such as sleeping, eating, socializing, and education.


According to WHO, this decision was based on the consensus “of experts from different disciplines and geographical regions that were involved in the process of technical consultations undertaken by WHO in the process of ICD-11 development.”


The WHO states that there are three distinct features that must take place for a gaming disorder diagnosis to take place. The first one, as stated by Dr. Vladmir Pozynak, a member of WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, to CNN “is that the gaming behavior takes precedence over other activities to the extent that other activities are taken to the periphery.”


The second feature is described as a person losing control of their behavior and a new one taking its place; in most cases this behavior is self-destructive. The third is a significant change in their personal, social, and family attachment. In extreme cases, there are noticeable changes in health conditions.


This is good news for most of us ‘hard-core’ gamers, who may play upwards of twenty hours a week, but don’t show any of symptoms of the disorder.  


I asked my fellow metahumans/game enthusiasts Andrew and Brandon on what they thought. While both agree that 20 hours a week is not enough to be considered a disorder or addiction, they do disagree on one thing.


Andrew was partly for the study, stating that people should be concerned if the total amount of hours a week is 40 hours or more. He also stated that we should also look at the reasoning as to why a person spends so many hours playing games instead of partaking in activities in the real world.


While certainly true, it’s unfortunately difficult to pinpoint that reasoning as gamers come from different backgrounds. There are those who play because it makes for the perfect escape from real life, while others might just not have anything in the real world that holds their interest.


Andrew also pointed out that when people are addicted it means they’ve given up on something. Say for instance, that a person who plays 40 hours or more a week and the reason is that life outside isn’t worth it for them to be a part of. In comparison, a person that has a drinking problem may be troubled by something in their lives and are trying to forget or run away from it.


On the other side, Brandon argued that it’s not about the number of hours, but rather if playing video games affects or distracts you from your normal daily routine. A comparison can be drawn to people’s lives revolving around their phones and televisions so much that it’s become routine.


At the end of the day, the classification of ‘gaming disorder’ as a disease isn’t something that should alarm people. In fact, it’s probably a good thing, as it addresses a lesser known problem that can possibly help the few who play video games so much that it negatively impacts their lives.


My only concern is that this can also bring a lot of negative stigmatism to gamers in general. A situation where people who simply love video games are suddenly being treated as if they have some kind of disorder.


In my opinion, the best strategy is to help spread the general understanding of what exactly WHO is classifying as a disease.

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