As of 2018, gaming disorder was an official condition. Well, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) it was.
Although a gaming addiction may seem laughable to many, cases are on the rise. In a small number of incidents, the addiction proves fatal. In 2010, for example, a Korean couple allowed their infant to starve while they raised a virtual child in an online game. In 2006, another child died while their parents played World of Warcraft.
A complex disorder that’s under-studied
If you feel as though the WHO declaring gaming addictions as a disorder is a bizarre step toward pathologizing human behavior, you’re not alone. Few studies focus on gaming addictions. Those that do aren’t extensive, which means the world isn’t coming close to understanding them.
Gaming addictions haven’t been problematic for long. Many of the high-profile cases the public is aware of stem from the era of high-speed Internet. One school of thought suggests that humans have always had the potential to form these addictions, but they’ve lacked access to them. When high-speed Internet became readily available, humans with potential for gaming addictions became addicted. They craved a sense of escapism that was instantly fulfilling and so their addiction formed. While it may seem like a bizarre idea, it does fit in with addiction theories. Those who are addicted to gaming likely receive a dose of dopamine to their reward centers, which they continue to chase in the form of more gaming.
Another theory suggests that gaming disorders form because our lives are now so hectic, we don’t have enough free time to enjoy ourselves in the real world. Thanks to the rise of sharp graphics and VR headsets, games consoles deliver a near-authentic experience. However, this isn’t the first time in history that humans have been overly busy. Many people work fewer hours than those who existed two generations behind them. Unless there’s evidence of similar addictions forming 60 years ago, this theory seems a little weak.
Treatments are sparse but strong in some countries
Not-so-surprisingly, gaming disorder isn’t high on your average psychiatrist’s list of priorities. In the Western world, we tend to rely on the usual addiction therapies. This often means weaning the addict off the addictive substance or turning to a 12-step program.
In Korea, gaming disorder cases are so severe there’s now a camp dedicated to treating sufferers. Parents and concerned teachers can refer children to. The camp’s leaders try to wean them away from gaming and the Internet by encouraging them to channel their energies into another hobby.
In the Netherlands, recovery camps focus on helping teenagers overcome the anxieties associated with ditching their habit. The therapists there also help patients rebuild their confidence so that they’re able to socialize with others once they’ve left their addiction behind.
In many countries, the United States included, gaming disorder isn’t recognized as being a legitimate condition. But as cases continue to rise, does that need to change?