What is a video game addiction? Does it really exist? If so, what are its consequences? How can we tell a possible gaming addiction from simple binge playing of that latest title that you’ve been waiting for several months? So many questions and the answers are yet to be firmly set.
In its article from July of last year, American magazine “Psychology Today” points out that the common definition of an addiction, like the one on Wikipedia (which refers to an addiction as “a brain disorder characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli despite adverse consequences.”) doesn’t include disorders like compulsive shopping or gambling, which are different from the more common forms of addiction, such as drugs or alcohol abuse in that way that they leave no negative, relatively quickly visible consequences to a person’s health and physical well-being. Their argument is that video game addiction is a disease not unlike these two, since a gaming addiction can ruin a person’s social life and family relations, cause them to lose money, and even endanger their health.
The article goes on to say that the American Psychiatric Association has listed “Internet gaming disorder” (IGD for short) as a possible diagnosis for inclusion in future versions of its DSM-V (Manual of Psychiatric Disorders). Even though gaming addiction is yet to be officially recognized as an illness in the US, there are already rehab centers throughout the United States, as well as some parts of Europe and Asia. According to his proposed list, you might be suffering from a video game addiction if you exhibit five of the symptoms listed bellow during a period of twelve months. The symptoms are :
However, even if you do show these symptoms, it is too early to panic. The experts who have defined these parameters have later spoken about some serious political pressure that they’ve been exposed to by those who were lobbying to have gaming addiction included in the list of mental disorders. Another thing that the critics of this system point out (such as a group of authors who wrote a counter article in the “American Journal of Professional Psychology”) is the fact that these signs are too vague and open to interpretation to be taken as a letter of the law.
One more issue is the fact that there is no certain way to determine if video gaming addiction (even if we do accept the criteria listed above as valid) is not itself a symptom of another, deeper, underlying mental condition. (That is, even if someone, say, plays video games obsessively in order to avoid facing the real world, who can determine with certainty that it’s not because they are depressed or suffering from social anxiety, rather than addicted to gaming).
The complications with this set of rules don’t end here: another troubling thing is the fact that the scientific community still lacks the terminology to talk about gaming addiction; its vocabulary is used for illnesses such as alcohol or drugs addiction – this is the reason why terms such as “tolerance” and “withdrawal” have been included even though there is little to none real evidence that they actually apply to gamers.
Speaking of things that DO apply to gamers, there are parts of the symptoms list (such as “Preoccupation with Internet games/gaming becomes predominant activity, “Loss of interest in previous hobbies,” and “gaming to escape negative mood”) that can be applied to virtually any passionate gamer under the Sun, thus making the proposed list too vague. The critics propose making a strict demarcation line between video gaming addiction and high engagement play in order to avoid a potentially high number of false positives that the current definition might bring.
What will happen with this proposed set of rules remains to be seen. But, keep in mind that experts suggest that around 10 to 12 percent of gamers can be considered addicts if they spend 10 hours a day or more on gaming. Seems like that is the only measurable criteria, though. An earlier article, published in 2013 by American Psychiatric Association says that “The literature suffers, however, from lack of a standardized definition from which to deprive prevalence data. An understanding of the natural histories of cases, with or without treatment, is also missing.”
The way things are today, it seems like video gaming and Internet have become another field for gathering political points and fearmongering, with different shady companies and individuals preying on worrying parents and profiting from their fears (for example, in some Asian countries, there are military-style boot camp where kids are being sent to work hard in order to be “cured”). To make matters even weirder, it might turn out that video game addiction is not a real disease after all. We simply do not know enough about it just yet. Whatever the scientific community might conclude in the end, it is, sadly, more than certain that the negative stereotypes surrounding the gamers and the gaming culture are here to stay even after everything is sorted out from the psychological point of view. So, just hang in there!