Like many who willingly go to extremes for the pursuit of passion, hardcore gamers accept that their preferred pastime comes with sacrifices such as little to no sleep, skipped showers and a plethora of on-the-hobby injuries that can range from a jammed thumb to a pair of severely exhausted eyes. Unfortunately, gaming addiction is on the most serious end of the spectrum of afflictions tied to excessive playing time, and it’s one that the World Health Organization has officially recognized as a mental disorder.
As Daily Dot reports, WHO’s beta draft of its 11th International Classification of Diseases categorizes “gaming disorder” under “mental, behavioral, or neurodevelopment disorders.”
As recent as October 2017, studies suggested that gaming addiction wasn’t a real disorder, but apparently WHO has compiled enough evidence to formally put the debate to rest. The symptoms of gaming addiction can include the person becoming angry, depressed or violent when denied access to games, lying about the amount of time they spend playing or even jeopardizing jobs, relationships or their health in the process.
For instance, in 2015, a man in Taiwan died in an internet café after a gaming binge that lasted three days. Later that year, a teen recovering from a leg injury died after playing video games for 22 days straight. More recently, a well-known gamer from Virginia was found dead in his home after attempting to play “World of Tanks” for 24 hours straight in an effort to raise money for charity. There have also been multiple ghastly accounts of parents selling their babies to support a gaming addiction or children dying at the hands of neglectful parents who were dangerously engulfed in online gaming worlds.
Despite the obvious parallel between hazardous gaming symptoms and those of other behavioral addictions such as gambling or drugs, neuroscientist Dr. Don Vaughn, explains why there’s been some major lag time between mental health professionals pinpointing the aforementioned signs and gaming addiction becoming widely acknowledged as a distinct disorder.
“Behavioral addictions like compulsive gaming have been slow to gain recognition as distinct disorders because, unlike substance addiction, the root cause is less obvious,” Dr. Vaughn tells Playboy by email. “We know that cocaine, for example, physically increases the synaptic concentration of the powerful neurotransmitter dopamine, leading to immediate euphoria. In a behavioral addiction, however, the story is not as simple. Users may overindulge on gaming for immediate pleasure-seeking—like cocaine —but they also may use it as a coping mechanism for general social isolation, purely as a distraction to make difficult times go by more quickly, or for something we never would have even guessed.”
Dr. Crystal I. Lee, psychologist and owner of L.A. Concierge Psychologist, anticipates that the WHO decision will serve to further legitimize gaming addiction as a medical condition.
“I hope that the official recognition of gaming addiction will lead to more funds for research, so we can discover how gaming addiction is similar or different from other addictions,” Lee tells Playboy. “I hope that it’ll also start rigorous research into treatments for gaming addiction and lead to insurance covering gaming addiction treatment. After all, insurance companies will not fund therapy unless the patient has a diagnosis they recognize as medically necessitating treatment.”
While the IDC doesn’t outline any specific forms of treatment for gaming addiction, Dr. Vaughn agrees that its newly acquired status as a formal medical diagnosis will have an overall positive effect on the plight of the patients.
“A formalized diagnosis of gaming addiction may be a step in the right direction for the simple reason that a specific, billable ICD code improves insurance coverage for treatment, increasing the number of patients coming forward and physicians capable of treating them.”
The discussions around gaming addiction’s official classification as a mental disorder have been and will likely remain polarizing, but officially acknowledging it as a disorder at least helps to combat a virtual affliction that for many has become a real-life adversary claiming the time, health and even lives of its opponents.