I’ve always enjoyed videogames, even if I was never great at actually completing them. I found myself mesmerised by the amazing art, *generally* good storytelling and great soundtracks. Playing with my friends online also became a treasured past-time of mine, with World of Warcraft and League of Legends being two of our favourites games.
However, while I have a lot of awesome memories about gaming, I also remember getting into arguments because of it. My parents and I used to quarrel about how much time I should be spending online as I grew up, with most of their points revolving around: videogame violence, spending too much time indoors and choosing to play with my friends over attending family outings.
Therefore, when I read about the outrage regarding Fortnite, the preparations for the opening of the first nationalised British clinic that helps gaming addiction sufferers and the WHO decision regarding introducing Gaming Addiction as a disorder in the draft of the Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) I started doubting my videogame convictions. Could it really be that bad?
Some of the scientific community are urging the WHO organization to “err on the side of caution for now and postponse the formalisation” of gaming addiction as a disorder.
#1 Which came first – Mental ill health or videogames?
It strikes me how ready we are to accept that excessive playing of videogames can cause mental health issues. Some people may turn to such behaviours as a method of coping with pre-existing difficulties, both in terms of mental health issues or as an escape from unpleasantness at work or school. While it is true that turning to games as a coping mechanism might not be ideal, it is also not as bad as it seems. And also probably not worth diagnosing as a mental ilness (yet.)
In my mind, labelling a potential coping mechanism as a disorder, further blurring the boundaries between psychiatric disorders and coping mechanisms, may not be the most helpful thing to do.
In diagnosing someone with a psychiatric disorder (if really they’re using videogaming as a coping mechanism) could stigmatise them, potentially leading to more discomfort.
#2 Panic and bans
Another thing that I never considered until I read the previously mentioned paper is the fact that not all countries which use the ICD manual face the same issues when it comes to gaming addiction. Therefore, the cultural differences that come with gaming in different countries should also be taken into consideration (which has not happened yet.) Therefore,instead of having one international classification/ method of treatment, countries might find it beneficial to implement local solutions.
On the same note, making gaming into a disorder also has the potential to increase panic, which could be dangerous especially in countries which do not face a gaming problem. This could lead to haste solutions (such as screen-time bans) that have the potential of doing more bad than good.
#3 Digital lives
There is a lot of misunderstanding around children and their time spent online (particularly when it comes to gaming.)
Whether we like it or not, we are starting to do more and more things online – from work to shopping, talking to friends or playing videogames (be it 5 hours of World of Warcraft or a few cheeky rounds of Candy Crush.)
While it is important to educate the little ones in our lives about screen time, putting diagnoses on something that could be children adapting to the digital world could cause more damage.
Ultimately it should be important to consider both the benefits and the negative aspects of videogames and to start a conversation with someone who might be struggling.
There is a lot more research that needs to be done when it comes to videogame addiction and there is no doubt that some people do struggle with this issue. Whilst recognising that a diagnoses could help those with a serious addiction, I’m wary of starting to label people as being gaming addicts before the WHO does further research.