Addiction is defined not, by habitually and excessively partaking in an activity, it’s defined by the activity having increased priority over life interests and daily activities. You know, eating, sleeping, speaking to your family etc. Habits become addictions when they stop being pleasurable and become a necessity. Now it’s clear, when referring to Gaming Addiction, now classified as a disorder, the WHO’s definition isn’t breaking away from the grounded facts of addiction. However, there’s more to it.
Turn to the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), chapter 6 section 13 of the WHO’s list of very specifically defined Impulse control disorders. This section contains Substance-induced impulse control disorders, Gambling disorder, Secondary impulse control syndrome, Body-focused repetitive behaviour disorders and… Gaming disorder. Doesn’t that sound a little out of sorts for something with no large-scale studies or, more pertinently, no firm agreement of its existence within the professional community itself.
It is vital that the destructive and debilitating reality of behavioural addiction is acknowledged, including the acceptance that there are overlapping categories of mental illnesses, but here’s the thing: how many actual cases can be comfortably described solely as ‘gaming disorder’? No really, you may scoff at my ramblings and largely anecdotal views on something I’m not really qualified to talk about, but isn’t it usual that the WHO has only two specific sub-categories under their ‘Disorders due to addictive behaviours’ heading? Gambling and Gaming.
Gambling / Drinking / Gaming…
There’s an immediate issue in drawing comparison between gambling and gaming, though. It’s scope, severity and consequence.
There are other areas in great need of study, which, despite decades of groundwork to expand on, demand more attention but receive less. Compulsory spending studies are gradually revealing the huge social cost of the problem. Evidence suggests up to 5% of the entire population are at risk, showing there are measured and severe social consequences. Yet society will say you can’t pull an all-nighter on Fortnite, but you can line up from Christmas Day until Boxing Day outside Selfridges in order to line your arms with discount designer handbags – that’s OK. Maxing out your credit card so everything including your socks smells like Sauvage by Dior? That’s healthy.
This example is very real but doesn’t fit into a nice, neat category for your newly built clinic and it won’t create cohesive, definitely factual, study-based articles for panicked Daily Mail-reading parents and their offspring (potential patients). There won’t be a convenient media hype-train to hop aboard while procuring funds because people like their shoes.
The Blame Game
Now that gaming has been categorised, out come the Addiction Clinics with their freshly updated list of services. Gaming addiction placed above eating disorders (they are all over this), specialist courses for teens with gaming disorder (which also gives neglectful parents an excellent excuse to blame something else for their lack of responsibility or ability to recognise a greater need). Throwing money at a ‘specialised’ addiction clinic won’t stop Overwatch being fun and it won’t turn your kid into, well-mannered, all-round achiever, Hermione Granger.
Picture this; your drunken father comes home one night, pees on the curtains, throws up on the coffee table, leaves his shoe in the fridge. He’s pissed. He needs help.
Your gaming obsessed wife comes downstairs, pees on the curtains, throws up on the coffee table, leaves her shoe in the fridge. She needs a different kind of help.
Scaremongering is the mainstream media’s favourite meal and, my word; the WHO have offered up a feast. The resulting excrement is devoured by anyone who doesn’t have the time, or drive, to look it up the topic in any detail.
Spare me the Hyperbole, you Part-Time Keyboard Warrior
Fine, but it doesn’t detract from the fact that a small handful of out of touch professionals decided they’d set out to open or adapt their own clinic by first convincing the WHO that gaming can be bad for you, then applying for funding and finally ‘raising awareness’, largely to capitalise (you’re welcome to do your own research on this because, honestly Reggie can’t afford the libel). This funding could be used to better treat the underlying conditions people are suffering with when addicted to video games.
Funding for any healthcare is finite; there’s no additional funding for a new category of addiction. By adding resource to one area, you must remove from another. I would expect them to treat addiction, as only they can, utilising the decades of amazing studies and progress to draw from. Instead they use completely untested categories to enable them to tick a box on behalf of someone with potentially serious mental health problems. Spend the money on large-scale studies, instead, if you must!
It was hyperbole when I said gaming addiction was fiction but, in it’s current WHO form, sitting right next to gambling addiction, it’s a farce of a label, which draws a risk of masking more serious mental health issues. They have a responsibility to the public and, most importantly, those who suffer with mental health conditions, to lose the agenda.
I’m not suggesting you can’t get addicted to gaming, there are plenty of people who are genuinely addicted to games, but it’s not an epidemic, it shouldn’t be a headline (shhhhh, ignore the irony) and it certainly should not be used to mask mental health issues or decrease funding for what we know to be serious, debilitating, established problems. The WHO’s classification does nothing but push the false narrative that gaming is bad for you. The public don’t like gaming (even though they do), it’s naughty.
If you’ve read my previous feature on society’s perception of gaming as deviant culture, you’ll know I aim to paint a brighter picture of what gaming can mean to people.
Gaming is the symptom, there’s no evidence it’s the cause.