Now unless you have been hidden under a rock for the last few weeks you may have noticed some articles and videos appearing regarding gaming addiction. I’m here to clarify some things that the media may have missed in their desire to jump on this in a way to criticise gaming.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) classified gaming addiction as a recognised condition in January. Now several articles and videos have been appearing from various media outlets have jumped on the diagnosis and created some worry amongst gamers and parents.
The specifics from the Q&A section when this was announced in January 2018 are as follows:
“Gaming disorder is defined in the draft 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as 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.”
Also following on from this, there is criteria which are required in order to diagnose the condition as described by “For gaming disorder to be diagnosed, the behaviour pattern must be of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months.” Both quotes taken from the WHO announcement/online Q&A on their site from January 2018, accessed by myself for this article in June 2018.
I think the mass media may have missed these specifics.
This does not mean all gamers are addicted. It also doesn’t mean that all children will necessarily be addicted to gaming. Nor does it mean that gaming for an arbitrary length of time a week equals gaming addiction. Now BBC, and other media outlets, repeat that paragraph after me please. I’m going to be focusing on the BBC in this article, since they are meant to be one of the more trustworthy sources for news and they, in my opinion, have been implying that gaming addiction is based on time spent playing.
The BBC posted this video regarding gaming addiction, entitled “WHO: Gaming addiction a mental health condition“, the first time I spotted this was as shown in the image above. The title shown in the tweet says “Computer game addiction: I spend 20 plus hours a week gaming”. The first title sounds factual, the second heavily implies something that simply isn’t cut and dry.
The implications in this video are that gaming for 20 hours a week is a gaming addiction. It is not that simple. Gaming 20 hours a week could be perfectly healthy and is for some people. The implication is this condition predominantly affects kids, and also suggests that Fornite (the game du jour for the media to mention) is involved in these cases.
I have some queries about this video as well. The children in this video could have been recorded for another purpose, with the text about gaming addiction added later, or it could have been recorded specifically for this piece. The first possibility I would say is misuse, the second is laziness on the side of the journalist as instead of getting relevant material they went with a group of healthy and not addicted children who quite like Fortnite and both options are misleading. BBC you can and should do better. One of the children in that video even mention that they play a bit less on weekends as they like playing outside, as in they still take part in other hobbies and activities. This hardly sounds addicted, so there is some disparity between the video and the text applied to the video. The only bit of this video containing is brief and appears disconnected to the rest so doesn’t add anything, in my opinion. Perhaps this was the only dedicated bit recorded for the gaming addiction purpose.
Another video shared by the BBC surrounding gaming addiction is entitled “How does gaming affect your brain?“. This focuses on Hamish, who loves playing Fornite, and his brother Noah, who doesn’t, playing Fornite and scanned whilst playing to see how their brains are affected and how they differ. Basically the results show that Hamish is immersed and connected to the game, whilst Noah isn’t. Hamish’s scans show that it is a rewarding experience for him and he is engaged with it. Then they had to ask if this shows addiction. A game can be enjoyed without addiction. They also suggest that Hamish may be less focused and need more stimulation because of this. I get connected to, engaged by and have emotional responses to games, as well as TV shows, films and books. It is possible for this to happen in a perfectly healthy way. Obviously this doesn’t go into detail but the assumption that someone who enjoys a particular game, with a scan showing he had a connection to it, could mean he is addicted is dangerous and premature. It is a leap that I think a lot of people could have made based on how this was produced.
The problem I have with gaming disorder is that it is quite vague. The WHO definition is not the clearest definition and the reliance on interpretation and guesswork for timescales may not act in a patient’s best interest. Terminology such as “gaming taking precedence over other interests” is not cut and dry. I would say my top four hobbies, in order for the moment, would be gaming, writing, cross stitch, photography. In a few months that list could be cross stitch, reading, gaming, writing. Or writing, reading, photography, gaming. My point is the order of preference for hobbies change for me, it depends on how I am feeling, what I feel like doing, what the weather is like, if I feel in the mood for. That is only considering a small selection of my interests. So if I’m prioritising gaming it could be natural, and just how I feel at the time.
At the moment I game more, there are games I want to play and games give me some time away from the real world into one where I can be anything and I can focus on something else. Am I prioritising gaming over other hobbies and interests? Technically yes. Is this unhealthy? No. The other difficulty with terminology I see is “negative consequences”. In terms if a diagnosis what would count as negative consequences, or at least what counts as sufficient negative consequences for diagnosis. This is down to the view of the medical professional, which is likely to vary by doctor, by practice, by city, by country, by whatever other demographics you could throw in. And once more into the breach with terminology, “for at least 12 months”. I have also seen it quoted, though I am unsure if the accuracy, that in severe cases this can be shortened. This calls into question what classes as severe, at what point do we begin measuring the time scale from in order to make a diagnosis and if this is helpful or not.
Whatever the case is gaming addiction is here to stay. What we need to be careful with is not to overreact and not to jump to conclusions. (If any journalist is reading this, please be reminded of this point be careful, don’t jump to conclusions and don’t imply something that simply isn’t true.)
How do you think the media has coped with the announcement of a gaming addiction?