Why the WHO’s classification of ‘gaming disorder’ is flawed
The World Health Organization is a powerful, specialized agency within the United Nations that raises concerns over global health issues. Throughout their history, they've eradicated small pox, lead the effort in developing HIV/AIDS treatments, and reduced infant mortality rates to the lowest mankind has ever seen.
Now they've set their sights on the next devastating health risk that is plaguing our world: people who play video games too much.
The 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases, an official document that classifies and categorizes diseases, disorders, and injuries, includes what they're calling a "gaming disorder" — a disorder that exhibits addictive behaviors. According to the document, it may even be linked to hazardous gaming, which is when someone neglects the real world in favor of playing video games to the point that they risk physical or mental harm.
This has been getting headlines from readers who assume their hobby is under fire — it's not. It's referring to extreme cases.
We're talking about cases of addiction where someone dies after playing video games for three-days straight — and the people playing games next to his corpse don't notice for ten hours. Or the case in which a couple that let their real-life child die because they were too busy playing video games (ironically enough, the game they were playing was a family-life simulator in which they had a virtual kid together).
These are all very isolated and very extreme incidents. Still, a "gaming disorder" is listed under a section entitled "disorders due to substance use or addictive behaviors." Included under this same category are addictions to hard drugs, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and gambling.
However, there's a very important factors missing from the classification — root cause. Video games by themselves are fun and that little shot of dopamine that your brain gives you for achieving something (in game or in any other aspect of life) can cause people to form a gaming habit.
The problem is that the WHO's classifications of gaming disorders and hazardous gaming are independent from nearly every other mental disorder.
According to the WHO, gaming addictions are linked to Bipolar type I and Bipolar type II. This link is established on the assumption that addicted gamers feel euphoria in the virtual world and depression in the real one.
This much is true: Gaming offers emotional security to the players. A player may be feel like a failure in the real world, but as soon as they get online, they're a mighty paladin. There could be nothing going right in someone's life, but they're always able to save the princess in a video game. The village elder is just happy to see the hero who saved the day — he's not pressing you on due dates or responsibilities.
Anyone can pick up a controller for a few hours and enjoy disconnecting for a time. Someone who feels compelled to escape the challenges of the real world entirely is a disorder.
Gaming can be a problem for some people — but it isn't addictive by itself. There are no physical withdrawals. If you want to treat it as a health concern, look into what's causing someone to reject the world in favor of a game.
Gaming addiction is a symptom or a coping mechanism — not an affliction.