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Life as a Video Game

What is “Gaming Disorder” And Does My Child Have It?

A new, video game-related diagnosis appears in the ICD-11. Is it a real thing?

Here is my most recent episode of my Tech Happy Life YouTube channel. I hope you find it engaging and helpful!


Transcript of “Gaming Disorder: Are Games Controlling Your Kids?”

Hello, this is Tech Happy Life with Dr. Mike Brooks. In today’s episode we’re covering “Gaming Disorder”: Are games controlling your kids? Now, you might have read recently—this just came out—that the World Health Organization (WHO), which publishes the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), has recently classified Gaming Disorder as a new disorder.

Mental Disorders as Hypothetical Constructs

The idea that there could be a Gaming Disorder is a bit controversial, and frankly, I have some mixed feelings about it, so I want to delve into this topic today. First of all, any mental health disorder, including Gaming Disorder, would be considered a hypothetical construct. What do I mean by that? They aren’t “real” things—there’s not a blood test for any mental health disorder (not at this point). So, depression, anxiety, ADHD, even addiction, pretty much any mental health disorder, just consists of symptoms and behaviors that we all exhibit from time to time. Whether it’s restlessness, fatigue, sadness, concentration problems.

When Does an Intense Hobby Become a Disorder?

So when it comes to Gaming Disorder, the question is: When does an intense interest and fun derived from playing a game cross a threshold to become a gaming disorder? It’s really not clear! Diagnosing any mental health condition may never be an exact science, and Gaming Disorder is no different. How severe does the problem have to be before it crosses that threshold? How much impairment does it have to cause, and for how long? So, all these things are a little fuzzy, even if criteria are put out there by the ICD-11. It’s still not definitive—it’s still not black or white.

Symptom of an Another Problem?

Another critical issue is whether the “Gaming Disorder” is actually a symptom of another problem? For instance, there’s good data to indicate that people who are on their screens a lot, including gamers, tend to be more depressed. So, the more they’re on the screen, the more depressed they get. But then we’re talking about whether the “Gaming Disorder” actually a symptom of an underlying problem like depression.

What About Other Screen-Related “Disorders?”

This next issue is a personal pet peeve of mine, so I’m just going to throw it out there. So there are other forms of screen use that seem to be equally, if not more problematic than gaming, but gaming somehow is getting singled out and scapegoated as the biggest problem. That just doesn’t seem fair! Why stop at gaming disorder? What about news junkies? Or a generalized screen disorder? Social media addiction? Addiction to internet pornography? It’s singling out gaming as its own problem, but we all know that screens can be a problem for everybody, and for some, it’s very severe. So it seems a little odd to stop just at gaming disorder if you’re going to go down that road.

Disorder Vs. Addiction

But one thing I do like that I think the ICD-11 got right is they called it a “Gaming Disorder,” and not a “Gaming Addiction”. Now, if we ask whether it’s a gaming addiction, that’s a whole other can of worms, and in a future episode, we will take this on. Regardless of what we call it, I think we can all agree that too much gaming can cause severe problems in a person’s life.

For example, there are teens, and I know these teens, who are playing Fortnite. That’s the hot game now, and I don’t want to throw Fortnite under the bus, but there are plenty of teens and young adults and even kids who are playing hours and hours of Fortnite. I hear of teens playing on school nights until 2 a.m., and their grades are really suffering. So, it can merit clinical attention because it is causing severe problems in a person’s life. Although many activities can be very compelling and we spend a lot of time doing them, like reading, playing, or watching soccer (such as the World Cup), or playing a musical instrument, there is something a bit different about the video game experience that can make it so compelling that it is difficult to stop and disengage. What happens is playing video games can start to eclipse other important life activities, like sleep, physical activity, and in-person social interactions.

So, here’s the thing—companies know how to make compelling games—games that are so difficult to put down. And they weave different strategies, tricks, if you will, into the game and experience that makes it very difficult for gamers to put the game down. Sometimes, this is called “persuasive technology”. Companies know how to weave these things into games, because they hire neuropsychologists and psychologists and social psychologists to weave those tricks and strategies into the gaming experience so the gamers don’t want to put it down. Because companies ultimately make their money based on users spending time on their games.

The Bottom Line?

So, the bottom line is this: Although there are some legitimate concerns about a diagnosis of a Gaming Disorder, we all know that many people struggle with gaming, to the extent that it can cause significant impairment in many life domains. Regarding what to do about it, whether it’s a Gaming Disorder or just too much screen time, in the next episode I’ll be introducing the Tech Happy Life Model, which is an approach to help you and your family manage the challenges of screen time in a more effective way.

This is Tech Happy Life with Dr. Mike Brooks, and I hope to see you next episode!



World Health Organization. (2018, June 18). WHO Releases New International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). Retrieved from

World Health Organization. (2018, March 14). Gaming Disorder. Retrieved from

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