For years, the debate has raged on about whether or not video games are harmful — particularly for children. This year, although they estimate only around half of a percent of Americans qualify, the World Health Organization has officially classified gaming addiction as a disorder.
Sensationalist headlines about video games have proliferated through media for decades. Tales about extreme examples of gaming-related harm, such as the 2002 case of a South Korean man who died after spending nearly 24 hours binging on games, color the narrative. On the other hand, passionate gamers who make this form of recreation their main hobby, rail against these often misinformed accounts, arguing that video games make them neither violent nor slothful.
Yet, regardless of your moral stance as to whether video games contribute to violence, laziness, or reduced interest in real-life activities, there’s no denying it — some people are helplessly addicted to playing them, to the point of pathology.
With this acknowledgment in mind, the World Health Organization (WHO) has officially recognized video gaming addiction as a disorder in its latest set of guidelines. They estimate that between .3 and 1 percent of the population might qualify for this classification: an admittedly low number, to be sure, but significant enough to warrant a closer look and a better approach to treatment. WHO’s main criteria for inclusion under this disorder revolves around similar addictive diagnoses: does gaming interfere with academics, social life, hygiene, or other activities? If so, real addiction may be present.
There has been some backlash to WHO’s take on this situation. Many people believe that the criteria for diagnosis is too vague, subjective, or based in personal choice to be truly pathological. Others suggest that the games themselves are not the problem, and that addicts are using video games to escape and self-medicate. Critics argue that if video games were not the chosen portal for escapism, something else would simply take its place. They claim that the underlying problem causing the individual to seek escape is the real pathology — video games are just the outlet.
While that may be true, video games are a popular enough cultural phenomenon to warrant their own diagnosis, WHO asserts. Although adults can certainly become addicted to video games as well, children and adolescents are particularly susceptible to the addiction, as they are still learning how to balance work and play, and may become too entranced by the easy stimulation and reward cycle offered by sophisticated modern games.
Regardless, whether you’re a parent or an adult gamer looking to recognize the signs of addiction, a good rule of thumb is to simply follow the guidelines laid out by WHO. If video games begin to interfere with your friends, family, work, or school, it’s a sign that your gaming is beginning to get out of hand… and you may be exhibiting the classic signs of an addict.