In the modern digital era, we have often sought shelter in the virtual world to escape the harsh realities of the real one. Digital gaming is one such platform that gives us an opportunity to become our virtual avatar and enter the hallowed realm of virtual reality. Mostly prevalent in children, they often turn to online gaming as a way to cope up with their high pressure adolescent high-school lives. Researchers have previously cited the negative impacts of such an indulgence – from isolation and low emotional connection to poor alertness as a result of over exposure to harmful radiation from screen exposure. Now the World Health Organization has gone one step further and recognized excessive gaming to be a mental health disorder, treating it along the lines of compulsive gambling and substance abuse.
This inclusion occurs in the WHO’s 11th edition of International Classification of Diseases (ICD), a handbook used globally by researchers and diagnosticians to classify diseases, symptoms and mental conditions. The WHO characterizes gaming disorder as when a person prioritizes gaming over daily activities and life interests, loses control of its meaning as a recreational outlet and continues to indulge in it despite the occurrence of negative consequences. These diagnostic features are similar to ones seen in other forms of addiction like drug abuse or gambling. Dr. Vladimir Poznyak, a member of WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, states that “the decision is not a precedent and is based on trends and developments observed in populations and professional fields”. The department further claims that such episodic or recurrent behavior is evident over a period of 12 months, and could result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning. Although the overall prevalence of this condition is “very low”, the WHO hopes that including it in its list of mental health conditions will raise awareness regarding the issue and ensure that people suffering from it receive adequate help.
It’s no wonder that such a decision has received significant flaks not only from video gaming companies and gamers but also from mental health professionals. Many have stated that the terms under which the WHO has made such an inclusion are too ‘broad’ and ‘subjective’. Citing research that states excessive gaming to be a secondary diagnosis in coping with anxiety and depression, Antony Bean, a licensed psychologist, adds that “when anxiety and depression is dealt with, the gaming goes down significantly”. He also advocates that including excessive gaming as a sickness opens the door for an excess in anything to be classified under its umbrella. Instead, what he and many other members of the opposition camp suggests, is to observe a person’s gaming style and their modus operandi of interacting with the outside world. Observing such details will help in a rigorous diagnosis of their excessive gaming tendencies, which could be used to treat their depression. Several video game companies, including the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment (UKIE), highlights the ubiquitous educational, therapeutic and recreational values of video games and states that its enjoyed safely and sensibly by more than 2 billion people worldwide. While the opposition from such companies is understandable, the broad terms of classifying a round-the-clock gamer as an addict with a mental health disorder could have adverse effects in the future.
With millions of gamers around the world worried that they now have a ‘mental health disorder’, the WHO claims that it hardly effects only 2-3% of their population. Any form of addiction develops as a coping mechanism against stress, anxiety and depression, and gamers have to make sure they don’t fall into the category of gaming becoming an addiction that takes over their life. At the end of the day, anything in excess is not good – and having a balance between all your activities will result in a healthy individual.