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“Gaming Disorder,” Is It A Real Thing?

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

You might have recently read that the World Health Organization (WHO), which publishes the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), 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. 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 (at least, not at this point). So, depressionanxietyADHD, even addiction or 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, or 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 in playing a game cross a threshold into becoming 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 their screen, the more depressed they may get. But then we’re talking about whether the “Gaming Disorder” is 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 gets singled out and scapegoated as the biggest problem within technology.

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 of technology addiction.

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 blog, we will take this on.

Regardless of what we call it — disorder or addiction — I think we can all agree that too much gaming can cause severe problems in a person’s life.

For example, there are tons of teens who love playing the hottest video game on the market, Fortnite. People — teens, young adults, and even kids — are playing Fortnite for hours and hours. I hear of teens who play on school nights until 2 a.m., despite the fact their grades are suffering. Gaming like this could merit clinical attention because it is causing severe problems in a person’s life.

Although many activities, like reading or playing spots, can be very compelling and time consuming, there is something a bit different about the video game experience. There is something that can make it so compelling that it is difficult to stop and disengage. Even to the extent that playing video games eclipse other important life activities, like sleep, exercise, and socializing.

So, here’s the thing —companies know how to make compelling games— games that are so difficult to put down. Gaming companies use different strategies or tricks, if you will, to make it very difficult for a gamer to turn the game off. This is called “persuasive technology”. Companies know how to weave these things into games, because they hire neuropsychologists and social psychologists to better understand the mind of gamers. Remember, companies ultimately make their money based on users spending time on their games.

The Bottom Line?

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 interferences in day-to-day life.

For More

Make sure to check out my video on “Gaming Disorder” by clicking here.

Stay tuned to my Youtube channel, Tech Happy Life, for my next episode, where I’ll introduce the Tech Happy Life Model. THL provides an approach to help you and your family manage the challenges of screen time in a more effective way.