Is Gaming Disorder Truly a Mental Health Crisis?
A few days ago, I penned an article discussing what the recent classification of Gaming Disorder by the World Health Organization meant for storytelling culture. At first, I was understanding and accepting of it. But a recent essay written by Chris Ferguson, author of the book Moral Combat: Why the War on Violent Video Games is Wrong, shed a new light on the story which encouraged me to take a closer look at the politics behind it.
Skepticism of video games is a common sentiment between world leaders and laymen alike. Despite the evidence that violent video game breed violent people being inconclusive at best, the myth still lingers around like a bad odor, tainting public opinion and sometimes guiding policy.
The American Psychological Association released a statement on video games and violent behavior, asserting that the findings show an increase in aggressive behavior. However, not long thereafter an open letter signed by two hundred twenty-eight academics and scholars challenged their findings, insisting upon more data-driven and non-ideological research into the topic.
Well the American Psychological Association steps again into the fray, this time publicly opposing the WHO’s Classification of a hobby as a mental illness.
So if it is political, what could be driving the World Health Organization to classify gaming as a mental health disorder? Beyond a few ideologically-driven and misinformed politicians and journalists in the western world, the argument holds little to no weight. However, the western world isn’t the only player in the WHO game.
Several Asian countries, including China and South Korea have created internet-and-gaming addiction boot camps to fight what they perceive as a public health crisis, citing that as many as 1-in-10 teens suffer from a crippling internet or gaming addiction. One might see this as a solution, as mid-century Americans might have once thought that gay conversion boot camps also worked. But instead of graduating with a clean bill of health, the teens are often tortured mentally-and-physically, resulting in at least one death.
So the classification of a Gaming Disorder seems suspiciously serendipitous for Eastern Nations attempting to fight the strange scourge of internet addiction. Odd, considering the money that these countries spend in infrastructure to create a strong computer network.
What Gaming Disorder seems to represent is a step backward in our understanding of how gaming affects the human brain.
“…we hear lots of nonsense about gaming releasing dopamine in the brain just like cocaine does,” Ferguson writes. “That’s technically true, but only in the sense that everything fun releases dopamine in the brain.”
Now that I’ve had time to absorb and think on the topic, it’s easy to understand why parents are so concerned with their children’s internet-or-gaming addiction. As a parent myself, I often found myself concerned with the amount of time my daughter spent online during her high school days.
But then I harken back to my own days as a teenager, spent in front of the emerging world wide web. My so-called internet addiction was put on pause as I became an adult and adopted responsibilities, responsibilities I never would have willingly assumed as a teen. My mother would commonly accuse me of being addicted to the screen, but when it came time to put away childish things, I did.
I think the amount of time spent on gaming and computers will always be a personal thing, heavily dependent on the individual, their responsibilities, and their social ties. While there are levels it can grow to where such dependencies can grow to the point where people can neglect themselves and their responsibilities, I don’t think it’s appropriate to lay the blame at the feet of hobbies or interests, or to vilify a multi-billion dollar industry.
I’m old enough to remember a time when being a gamer was a form of social suicide. Today, people proudly wear the badge of the nerd or the geek, but there was a time when such admissions were a surefire way to be singled out in the most cruelest of fashions and bullied accordingly. Over time, the public perception shifted, and gaming became a mainstay of storytelling through media.
The thing is, nerds grow up. And when they grow up, they create the very infrastructure upon which the world stands. A part of me fears that the classification will lead to medicating, and I’ve watched kids with bright futures brought low by medication too many time to count.
Certainly one can become addicted to gaming. Of course it can lead to problems. But in my opinion, the decision to classify it as a disease will do little else but pathologize and politicize a harmless hobby, especially when people of all shapes and sizes become addicted to all sorts of otherwise benign things. Why single out gaming?