Individuals who cannot put down the controller and are addicted to playing video games may soon be classified as having a mental health disorder by the World Health Organization (WHO).
A beta draft of WHO’s 2018 International Classification of Diseases includes “gaming disorders” under its list of mental health conditions like gambling disorder and addictive behaviors.
The organization classifies gaming disorder as a “pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior” that causes an individual to lose control of their playing, prioritize gaming over other interests and activities, and escalate gaming despite negative consequences.
“When it comes to addiction, it comes in all different signs and forms… You have kids completely addicted to these Nintendo games and this type of stuff,” said Cary Quashen, founder and CEO of Action Family Counseling and Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital’s Executive Director of Behavioral Health. “Addiction comes in all kinds of ways. Try to take a 15-year-old’s or 40-year-old’s phone away for day or try to disconnect a Nintendo game.”
According to WHO, the gaming habit must be severe enough to cause “significant impairment” to one’s personal, family, social, educational or occupational areas to be considered a mental health disorder. The gaming behavior most also be continuous or recurrent for nearly a year for the diagnosis to be given.
This means that “gaming disorder” does not apply to all gaming, but to those whose gaming habits have harmed their personal lives.
“It is extremely addictive and the idea is when it becomes a disorder… People have an addictions to all sorts of things,” said Dr. Rochelle Feldman, a pediatrician and neonatal specialist at Prima Pediatrics. “The problem I have with the gaming and all of that stuff is not really with the actual games, but that it pulls kids away from social interaction.”
Quashen said he has seen children and teens in the Santa Clarita Valley who are addicted to playing video games and would be categorized as having a “gaming disorder.”
“I have parents call me in the recent years asking about admitting their kids for gaming addictions and that it’s taken over their world with school and sports and friends and everything,” he said.
However, the disorder impacts more than just children and teens, adults have been found to obsessively play games as well.
“Adults get pretty easily sucked into too. It’s very addictive for a number of reasons not the least of which include the animation and the content radiation is what you get when you watch TV… It puts you in the zone,” Dr. Feldman said. “This has been physiologically shown so it can become very addictive because it is a way of destressing even though it has its own stresses with it.”
Benefits of Gaming
Although gaming, when used in excess, can be detrimental to individuals, it also can provide others with psychological benefits like improved mood, enhanced traits like hand-eye coordination and increased abilities like problem-solving skills.
A 2014 article in the “American Psychologist, the American Psychological Association’s flagship journal, challenges the negative stereotypes of video gaming.
According to the article, individuals who played video games had strengthened cognitive skills like navigation, reasoning, memory and perception, as well as improved problem-solving skills and creativity.
Players also learned resilience in the face of failure while playing and those playing shooter video games improved their capacity to think about objects in three dimensions.
A 2015 study from University of California, Irvine found that playing 3-D video games boosted individuals’ memory formation and improved their reaction time.
And a 2017 study published by Scientific Reports found that action video games helped the reading fluency and visual attention span of children with dyslexia.
With these noted benefits, as well as detriments, to video gaming, experts urge adults and parents to help themselves and their children find a balance when playing video games.
“Parents need to start when they’re young and limit the time with computers and social media and playing games… We really have to be careful and limit the amount of time we allow our children to do things that really occupy their minds,” Quashen said. “Parents need to be present and connected to their children.”
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