We all know what it’s like to get lost in a video game. You look up, blinking slowly, and realize that hours have passed. But is video game addiction a legitimate medical problem? The World Health Organization says yes!
WHO just updated the International Classification of Diseases to include “gaming disorder” among the recognized mental health conditions. The criteria for diagnosis are pretty straightforward.
If you can’t control the amount you play, choose to game instead of performing essential tasks like going to work or showering, and if your gaming habit negatively affects your relationships–then yeah, you’re addicted.
Naturally, the video game industry is not thrilled about this development. Representatives from the Entertainment Software Association have hit back at WHO, claiming that there isn’t enough evidence to prove that games are addictive.
However, many mental health professionals think this could be a good move. Dr. John Jiao tweeted that without an official, recognized diagnosis, “people with real, legitimate video game addiction can often have trouble with insurance paying for their therapy.”
Sehkhar Sazena, a substance abuse and mental health expert for WHO, insists that only a very small number of gamers could be labeled as addicts under the new criteria. Only people who “get stuck in cycle of endless playing in favor of sleep, food, obligations, and other typical activities for over a year” would fall under the label.
And as far as proof goes, a 2016 study from The American Journal of Psychiatry examined gaming behavior patterns and found that a very small percentage of the population–between .3-1%–might show addictive behavior.
While video game developers and fans alike are riled up over the idea of gaming as a mental health disorder, they’re ignoring the very real fact that many games are designed to be addictive.
That’s especially true in casual mobile games, which use a combination of push notifications, staggered timers, and random loot drops to encourage players to keep coming back (and spending more money).
Prince Harry spoke out against Fortnite in April, saying that the game is “created to addict, an addiction to keep you in front of a computer for as long as possible. It’s so irresponsible.”
While Harry isn’t likely to get his wish of having Fortnite banned in the UK, plenty of parents and health professionals alike are concerned over the amount of screen time very young gamers are clocking these days.
Ultimately, it’s not likely that you or anyone you know will be clinically diagnosed with gaming disorder. But it does raise interesting questions about the role of gaming in our lives and the responsibilities of game developers.