Gaming Disorder: What is it?

Many people hear the term “gaming disorder” and instantly have strong reactions. Some find it ridiculous to label a fun hobby as a disorder. Others claim that gaming truly can be addictive and harmful. Parents may even instantly try to diagnosis their kids who seem to play Fortnite too much. To be clear, if you play video games, you are not instantly labeled as having an addiction or disorder. So, what actually is this “gaming disorder?”

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Gaming Disorder Defined

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In the draft of the ICD-11 (11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases), gaming disorder is the term for “a pattern of gaming behavior (digital-gaming or video-gaming) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.” To meet diagnostic criteria, the behavior pattern must be severe to the degree in which it results in significant impairment in important areas of functioning (i.e. social, educational, occupational) for at least 12 months.
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With gaming disorder being included in ICD-11, there will be increased attention by health professionals to this condition’s risks, development, prevention, and treatment measures. WHO notes that people who do participate in this activity should remain alert to the amount of time they spend on gaming, especially when it leads to: cutting out other activities, changes in physical or psychological health, and changes in social functioning. The main characteristics are not unlike those of substance use and gambling disorders. “Gaming disorder” is not a novel concept; in fact, “Internet Gaming Disorder” was listed in the DSM-5 as a condition for further study as of 2013.

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Prevalence

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Studies suggest that only a small percentage of people who engage in digital- or video-gaming activities would meet gaming disorder criteria. According to CNN, “Millions of gamers around the world, even when it comes to the intense gaming, would never qualify as people suffering from gaming disorder,” says Dr. Vladimir Poznyak, a member of WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.

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Treatment

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Currently, interventions or treatments are similar to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Different forms of support can be included in treatment, such as psychosocial interventions.

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Gamers Take on Twitter

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Twitter:

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Many gamers went to Twitter to express their opinion on the new label. Several seemed to be offended, possibly feeling targeted or labeled. Others mocked its legitimacy, arguing that a fun hobby is not an addiction or disorder. Another issue was with the claim by gamers that 20+ hours a week of gaming qualifies for the disorder, a number that I have not seen on the WHO site. A major misunderstanding seems to be the line between normal functioning and disorder level behavior. If someone plays video games, that does not mean they instantly have this disorder. However, if this behavior interferes with their life and continues despite its negative consequences (i.e. failing classes due to gaming, lack of sleep due to gaming), that could be seen as a serious issue. There have even been deaths associated with excessive playing, such as that of Hsieh, a 38-year old man who was found dead in an Internet cafe in Taipei after playing for five days straight, so “gaming disorder” may not be as big of a joke as many gamers believe.

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Professional Stance: Some Against Label

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Not every health professional is on board with this new disorder concept. According to CNN, Anthony Bean, a licensed psychologist, states it is “a bit premature to label this as a diagnosis”, stating that many use gaming as a coping mechanism for anxiety or depression. According to the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, this proposal is problematic in various ways. It has “negative medical, scientific, public-health, societal and human rights fallout.” First, this will cause panic over the harm of gaming, resulting in premature application of diagnosis and treatment of false-positive cases. Secondly, this will make the research on it less open. Thirdly, the majority of gamers who are healthy will be affected in a negative manner. This will cause stigma to millions of people who play video games in a healthy, normal manner.

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It is clear that this new disorder, as with any new diagnostic label, will be controversial.

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