On Saturday, the 194-member World Health Organization at the 72nd World Health Assembly added “gaming disorder” to its list of recognized illness.
This means gaming addiction is now an official disease. I’m not sure how I feel about it. While gaming addiction is a problem for some, I’m not convinced it warrants its own classification as a mental illness, and it could open gamers up to abuse.
According to the organization, gaming disorder affects those who have impaired control over gaming, who give gaming priority over other interests and activities, and who play games despite negative consequences such as impairment to “personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.”
I’ll be the first to admit game addiction is a real thing. There have been several cases where people’s addictions to video games have even led to death.
In 2017, a video game streamer died while attempting to play “World of Tanks” for 24 hours straight. A Taiwan gamer suffered the same fate in an internet café in 2015 after playing video games for three days straight.
In 2010, a Korean couple let their 3-month-old baby starve to death to play a game that, ironically, involved raising a young girl. Even I, as a middle-schooler, would spend entire weekends playing “Runescape”—though, in my defense, a 12-year-old doesn’t have much else to do.
Clearly, some people take gaming way too far. But is gaming the problem, or are some peoples' addictions to video games a symptom of something deeper?
I’m no psychologist (though I did minor in psychology), but I’m willing to bet peoples' video game addictions stem from something else. People can become addicted to almost anything—drugs, gambling, even Netflix—and such addictions are often byproducts of other ailments such as depression or anxiety. Should gaming addictions be treated any different?
While I’m sure the World Health Organization’s intention in recognizing “gaming disorder” as a disease is good, I fear what this classification will do to further stigmatize gamers.
Every time there’s a mass shooting, foolish journalists never fail to link the killer’s actions to violent video games despite there being no provable link between virtual and real acts of violence. While video games are more mainstream now than they have ever been, there are still millions of ignorant people out there who are ready to blame the world’s problems on games instead of getting to the root causes.
Of course, streamers’ jobs are to play video games for long periods of time. I’m talking 40 to 60 hours a week for some. Does this classify as addiction? Not to me and many others.
No one who works 60 hours a week at an office job is considered addicted, so long as he or she makes time to do other things, right? Would Will Ninja, one of the world’s most successful video game streamers, be diagnosed with gaming disorder because he streams himself gaming hours each day? I sure hope not.
It seems to me classifying gaming addiction—which, again, is a real problem—as an official disease is ripe with opportunity to be abused. I hope this designation is used only for good and to get those who suffer from addiction true help, but I’m not holding my breath.