Playing with Mental Health – A Gaming Disorder Break-Down
Tuesday, 26 May 2020

 Video games get a bad rep. That’s nothing new under the sun. After all, ever since their inception, they’ve been prone to provoking moral panics over any conceivable topic. Be it the alleged satanic messaging in Pokemon, blood and gore in Mortal Kombat or the “Hot Coffee” mode in GTA: San Andreas, games have an uncanny ability to strike fear into the hearts of moral guardians. Wherever there are games, there’s probably some overblown hysteria going on.

 But ever so often, there comes along a story, which cuts through all the noise and brings a particularly harrowing story. Like the one of a South Korean couple prioritizing a “Second Life-esque” online game and neglecting their baby daughter to the point of starvation. Or the one about a 16 y/o, who shot both his parents, because they took away his copy of Halo 3.

Are these examples extreme? Perhaps so, but they lend merit to the criticism of over-indulgence in video games nonetheless. How much merit really is there though? Well, let’s go over what little there is known and hopefully you can form your own opinion by the time we’re done.

True obsession or trivial over-reaction?

The fear of changes in technology is nothing new. It even has its own name “Technophobia” and has been present in human life even hundreds and thousands of years ago. Case and point, the great philosopher Socrates was against writing, being quoted (recorded in writing by Plato) as saying:

“Writing will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves.”

Historical anecdotes much like this one make it easy to knowingly sneer at most unsubstantiated technophobic concerns. The first of which, regarding video games, reared its head in the ‘80s with the wide-spread advent of arcades. These “hip” gathering spots were seen as a terrible threat by the larger adult population. 

Concerns about how these establishments were destroying kids were varied. Access to drugs, alcohol, alleged addiction and similarities to gambling were all cited as the main threats posed by arcades. 

A rocky road to recognition

“Addiction” and “gambling” as terms are particularly note-worthy. Unhealthy/excessive gaming habits have been always present within the video game player-base, though “addiction” was only used hyperbolically. Interestingly, gambling-like features in games fizzled out of the mainstream gaming world after the arcade’s decline in popularity, only to make a resurgence in recent years with the spread of new monetization techniques – lootboxes specifically. 

WHO was the first to formally recognize “Gaming Disorder” as ICD-11 in September 2018, to great contention no less. Understandably, industry front-runners weren’t too thrilled about the implications, that their products could be having detrimental effects on their consumers’ health. Their arguments against the WHO’s alleged “hasty” decision was even supported by several cognitive psychologists, lead by Andrew Przybylski, in an open letter to the WHO.

However, it wasn’t enough to stop the ball from rolling, once it already started. The American Psychiatric Association followed suit soon after and created their own entry for the phenomenon in DSM-5, under the name of Internet Gaming Disorder.

Troublesome treatments

As is the case with all addictions, once a sufferer passes a certain point in their obsession, the chances of self-medication are slim. Gaming disorder usually starts out as nothing more than a bit of healthy escapism. But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. The ramp-up may be slow, but once a player begins over-indulging, red flags start popping up. At first, the afflicted may begin to prefer video games to their other hobbies and social activities, they will start to forego sleep, and once they start skipping hygiene, they’re officially in too deep.

It’s important to note, however, that gaming disorder rarely works on its own. Instead, it’s usually a symptom of other underlying issues. Especially susceptible are individuals suffering from bipolar disorder, social anxiety, depression, autism, etc.

Particularly notable is this disorder’s relationship with gambling. There’s a considerable number of testimonials from problem gamblers turned video game addicts, who just wanted to substitute their unhealthy obsession of gambling with a “bit of harmless fun”. It’s morbidly ironic that these people would have an easier time finding help, while addicted to slots, roulette or whatever else. 

We have a deep understanding of problem gambling as a disorder. It was first officially recognized in the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-3 in 1980. So it’s no surprise that there is an immense number of sites discussing the issue of problem gambling and establishments offering rehabilitation treatments. 
Meanwhile, options for the video-game-addicted were for the longest time non-existent. Governments are doing their best to tackle the problem, some better than others. Especially active are the technologically-oriented eastern countries, who’s populations suffer from media addiction the most (ex. Japanese hikikomori). Both South Korea and China have introduced gaming curfews for their youths.

In the end, private companies and help-centres were the first to address the growing needs for rehabilitation. Though far from perfect and expensive to boot, they’re the best thing those addicted have. As time progresses and professionals gain better insight into the gaming disorder’s mystery, we can only hope better and more affordable solutions will become available,


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