Anyone who has been playing games for long enough has a story about the time they got so into a game they missed an appointment or called in sick to work. If someone does that consistently, is it fair to say they have a psychological disorder? Psychologists have been debating in recent years whether or not to classify excessive gaming as a distinct mental disease, and the World Health Organization (WHO) appears to be leaning toward recognizing “gaming disorder” as a real thing.
While nothing is set in stone, a draft of the WHO’s 2018 international classification of diseases lists “gaming disorder” under section 6D11. According to the document, gaming disorder is a type of addictive behavior characterized by giving increased priority to gaming until it takes precedence over daily activities. This behavior continues in spite of any negative consequences arising from the shirking other responsibilities. Sound familiar?
This isn’t the first time mental health professionals have considered formalizing game addiction as a disorder of its own. In 2013’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, psychologists listed “internet gaming disorder” as a condition meriting further study. And studies have been undertaken, but the results are inconclusive at best. Experts are still puzzling over basic questions like “how do you diagnose gaming disorder?” Yet, as time goes on, it’s becoming increasingly clear that games do have the ability to hook people more so than other forms of entertainment.
Loot crates are *great* for publishers, since they don’t promise any given reward. For players, not so much. Image by Ars Technica.
In recent months, there’s been a lot of discussion about loot boxes in games and whether that constitutes a type of gambling. You probably know someone who spent a considerable sum of money on virtual gems or dragons, or whatever. We know that game companies leverage the psychology of risk and reward to make their games more engaging and encourage microtransactions, but is this a real addiction? Proponents of gaming disorder point to the release of dopamine in the brain when playing games and how similar it is to what we see in the brain as a result of drugs or gambling. Some mental health professionals are uncomfortable classifying gaming addiction as a distinct disorder. They point out many activities result in the release of dopamine, and we don’t consider them all hallmarks of psychological disorders.
However this pans out, it’s clear that gaming can have a very real negative impact on people’s lives. We are talking about interactive content that’s designed to be engrossing, but where and how do we draw the line between justifiable fixation and genuine addiction? We’ll have to wait and see.