In video games, timing is everything. Well done, then, to the people at the World Health Organisation who decided that right after E3 was the best time to announce that gaming addiction is a real, harmful mental health disorder.
”Gaming disorder” will be added to the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases, a sort of Yellow Pages of ailments.
It’s not just “OMG Fortnite is sooooooo addictive” though – there’s a difference between really liking something and having a mental health problem.
To be diagnosed as suffering from the condition, three things would have to be true:
- Is gaming prioritised over other activities, pushing other activities to the periphery of your life?
- When there have been negative consequences as a result of your gaming, have you ended up playing even more?
- Has there been significant impairment in your life in personal, family, social, educational or occupational terms for at least 12 months?
The WHO emphasises that only a very small percentage of people who play games are likely to suffer with the issue.
That all seems fairly straightforward, but the gaming industry is pretty upset about it.
A collection of industry bodies have issued a statement denouncing the WHO’s conclusion, pointing to a paper written by an impressive group of 36 experts from universities all over the world concerned that the “burden of evidence and the clinical utility should be extremely high, because there is a genuine risk of abuse of diagnoses”.
There are obviously lots of positive uses for gaming, even beyond entertainment – there are educational games, therapeutic games, and studies have suggested all kind of benefits like improved reaction times, better hand-eye coordination and even that gaming can help with dementia.
However, it seems worth at least thinking about the idea that the only people who stand to lose anything by this being recognised as an illness are the gaming industry. If you think about how the tobacco industry reacted when then health risks of smoking were suddenly placed in the spotlight, this is potentially what’s happening here.
More research obviously needs to be done – and maybe gaming as a thing is too big to come under one umbrella like this, and looking more specifically at the type of game is the way forward, like you wouldn’t look at the health risks of golf and American Football the same way just because they’re both sports – but when it comes to health, it feels like history is rarely on the side of the people going “NO NO NO, IT’S ALL GOOD, SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP”.
Time will tell.
(Pics: Pixabay, Epic Games, Rockstar Games, Nintendo, Activision)