Earlier this year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced plans to add video game addiction as a recognised mental health condition under the latest round of International Classification of Diseases, which was released last week, prompting all manner of kneejerk reports and reactions, including a particularly controversial headline from the BBC: “I spend 20+ hours a week gaming” (a headline which was amended a couple of days later).
In the weeks leading up to this story, I also witnessed other headlines, mainly regarding the latest massively-successful game, Fortnite. A particular report from one UK tabloid claimed that children were so addicted to the game that they were staying up at night and literally peeing themselves because they couldn’t pull themselves away.
Understandably, all of these reports raised the hackles of gamers and non-gamers alike. “I play video games for x hours a week and I’m absolutely fine”, you might have heard from some. “These kids should go out there and get a life,” others might have exclaimed. I have my own thoughts on all of this, and I felt like what I had to say was worth sharing in a longer form than a simple tweet.
It’s easy to see the WHO’s decision as the latest in a long line of attacks on video games. After all, the industry has been subject to multiple forms of scapegoating, from the “Nintendo killed my son” epilepsy headlines of the early 90’s, to more recent tales of grooming over video game online services. Truth be told, we should be able to tell ourselves to ignore the eye-catching, ire-raising headlines of the press; after all, they’re trying to sell themselves to you and your outrage, regardless of your opinion.
But what really frustrated me with these reports, is the fact that the decision made by the WHO was clearly not taken lightly, nor without merit, and the headlines employed by the press have threatened to belittle what amounts to be a very real situation. Ultimately, addiction has many forms and can affect people in different ways. The problem with the perception of addiction is the stigma attached it supposedly being about things that are bad/illegal – It’s always drug addiction, alcohol addiction, gambling, etc. It’s never considered or thought of that there are plenty of people out there that can be addicted to things that are good for us – Going to the gym, accessing the internet; even sex.
When you look at the NHS’s definition of addiction, it’s the lack of control over doing, taking or using something to the point where it could be harmful to you. Potentially, it could be anything that stimulates the brain enough to elicit a potential withdrawal symptom once that stimulation is out of reach. Adding “gaming addiction” to a list of mental illnesses isn’t a condemnation of video games and their use; it’s an admission that for those who have addictive personalities (which, according to Action on Addiction, is 1 in 3 of us), some might have difficulty stepping away from the controller.
At times in my own life, I’ve been concerned with my own gaming habits and worrying over whether I too am addicted, at least in a minor way. Maybe there have been times when I have prioritised playing video games over something else I should have been doing, and while I don’t think I’ve ever allowed it to completely run my life in the way that I’m affected when I’m not playing video games, I think I definitely fall into the category of having some sort of compulsion – But I also think I’ve had enough of an insight into my own behaviour to know when to do something about it, which I have done in the past.
But others might not be so lucky, and like any other addict, these people need help and support – Not the ridicule I’ve seen from commenters on these recent reports. Playing 20+ hours of a game in a week might not seem like a big deal to a hardcore player of video games, but if that someone feels like they’re verging onto an addiction, shouldn’t that person feel like they can get help in order to undo any potential damage before it gets serious?
Considering the toxicity in recent weeks of gamers sending endless abuse to game developers over particular content decisions, I believe that addiction to playing games isn’t the only mental health issue relating to video games and that there are even more issues affecting players outside of the screen.
Back on topic; for some, it can be incredibly easy to fall into an addiction cycle over something, and I can only imagine that it’s a horrible situation to be in. But just as the tabloids don’t blame the tobacco and alcohol industries for their related addiction cases, why should the games industry be blamed for these latest reports?
In the situations where children are involved, shouldn’t parents be taking action in monitoring their children’s behaviour and making changes where appropriate? In the report about the child who peed themselves, the parents were quoted as saying something along the lines of them being powerless to stop their child from staying up all night and playing. Which is utter bullshit, because those parents purchased the phones, tablets, televisions and game consoles that are rooted in the problem, and most of these things have parental controls for limiting access. Either that or a locked box or cupboard has a pretty similar effect, I hear.
A lack of knowledge or ignorance about how their children use technology is not a sufficient reason to pass on the blame. We know the dangers of alcohol and junk food if used improperly or excessively, and have some sense of power in managing our choices as well as those of our loved ones. Video games, television and social media are no different – When used sensibly that are life-enhancing pursuits, but if misused they can be debilitating to us.
But regardless of blame, I do blame the press for completely and utterly misreporting the WHO’s report, in a way that belittles the idea of being addicted to video games. Because addiction is real, and it does not care how it hurts those affected.