Gaming Disorder has now been added to the list of recognised mental health conditions by the World Health Organisation. There has been a lot of Twitter talk complaining that the classification is premature, or that it will be a drain on NHS funding. However, for those who have experienced game addiction, either personally or through their partners, friends and family, the classification could not have come fast enough.
Gaming Disorder, according to the definition by the World Health Organisation, is 'a pattern of gaming behaviour (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.' For a diagnosis to occur, the WHO note that this pattern of behaviour should have been exhibited for at least 12 months.
Gaming is designed to be addictive. Regular hits from in-game rewards are interspersed with game-play in order to keep you playing for longer. Combine that with the almost unrivaled escapism of gaming, which provides those bored of their routine with a distraction, as well as online game-play which creates a continuous and never ending story, and it forms the perfect storm for at-risk players. People suffering with a gaming disorder may also experience other mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression.
It is also worth noting that the vast majority of gamers are neither addicted nor obsessed with gaming, just as the vast majority of people who drink are not alcoholics. It is estimated that around 0.5% of gamers exhibit signs of Gaming Disorder; the remaining 99.5% are reaping the many benefits of gaming - which include increased coordination, problem solving skills, memory and multi-tasking, to name a few. However, the following behaviours have been noted as possible indicators of a gaming disorder.
They start to find self-care difficult
By this we don't mean that they're struggling to get to yoga twice a week, or that they've not ran themselves a bubble bath in a while. Basic self-care includes getting dressed in the morning, and wearing appropriate clothes during the day and night. Eating a balanced diet with distinct meals, rather than depending on snacks throughout the day. Sleeping during the night, and getting an appropriate amount of sleep. Showering regularly, and maintaining personal hygiene.
Those with a gaming disorder regularly struggle with self care, as gaming starts to take precedence.
They struggle to get to work, school or other commitments
Not going to work, school or college are clearly indicators of an underlying problem, as are missing doctors appointments, parental and family obligations. A large part of gaming disorder is the withdrawal from the real world, so those who avoid important commitments in favour of gaming may be at risk.
Those with a gaming disorder struggle to drag themselves away from their computer, console or device - even if they need to be somewhere else.
They find maintaining offline relationships difficult
Social interaction is absolutely vital - if you experience loneliness or isolation, you are more likely to develop mental health issues such as depression and social anxiety. Although the majority of online games have a social aspect (in game chat, for example) for those with a gaming disorder this can become a substitute for regular offline social interaction.
Those with a gaming disorder may withdraw from social interactions, and might no longer be interested in maintaining friendships and relationships that were once important to them.
Their other hobbies and interests start to disappear
For most people, gaming is a hobby - a diverting activity that is enjoyed alongside other interests. For those with a gaming disorder, gaming becomes their sole interest whenever they have any sort of free time on their hands. When we talk about gaming disorder, we're not talking about pathologising hobbies - we're talking about the desire to be gaming as often as possible, over anything and everything else.
Those with a gaming disorder may withdraw from many of the activities that they previously enjoyed, and have no interest in doing anything besides gaming.
They exhibit negative behaviour when they aren't gaming
This is something discussed regularly with alcoholism, drugs abuse and gambling; when a person has a disordered relationship with something, they experience withdrawal. With gambling and to a certain extent gaming, the withdrawal is less physiological, but present nonetheless.
When those experiencing a gaming disorder are not gaming, or are unable to game, they may show signs of anxiety, irritability, anger or frustration, and an inability to complete tasks. They may also express a distinct lack of interest in things, and may attempt to rationalize or justify returning to the game.
They sometimes hide or are secretive about their gaming habits
Hiding or being secretive about any kind of behaviour is often a red flag - with gaming, it is no exception. A person may feel embarrassed or guilty about the amount of time or energy that is spent gaming - they may even recognise themselves that it has become a problem.
Those with a gaming disorder may regularly hide or attempts to conceal the fact that they have been gaming.
None of the information listed here should be used to diagnose a gaming disorder. If you're worried that you or someone close to you may have a gaming disorder, you can find more information on the World Health Organisation's website.