WHO takes more guilt off irresponsible parents with gaming addiction classification

Child playing video game
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In a further blurring of the lines in the difference between compulsive behaviour and addiction, the World Health Organisation has classified gaming disorder as a mental health condition which is capable of addiction.

The decision, which comes after pressure from parents, has been criticised for its lack of supporting evidence by expert psychologists, who believe playing video games is more akin to “eating chocolate, having sex, and getting a good grade” than to genuine addictions such as substance abuse.

“I have considerable concerns about this proposed diagnosis,” said Dr Chris Ferguson, a who studies the effects of consistent game-playing. He added that comparing compulsive behaviour to substance abuse addiction is the WHO’s first mistake.

“There are many myths such as that games involve dopamine and brain regions similar to substance abuse,” Ferguson said. “There’s a kernel of truth to that but only insofar as any pleasurable activity activates these regions. How gaming involves them is more similar to other fun activities like eating chocolate, having sex, getting a good grade, etc., not heroin or cocaine.”

University of Oxford psychologist Andrew Przybylski agreed with Ferguson, stating that most studies on the idea of gaming addiction have been low quality. He believes that codifying gaming addiction as a true disorder could risk “stigmatising millions of players and may divert limited mental health resources from core psychiatric problems such as depression or anxiety which might be at the heart of problematic play”.

Both Ferguson and Przybylski acknowledge that some people overdo gaming at the expense of their health, however they believe the WHO’s definition of gaming disorder could inspire an inaccurate diagnosis when, in reality, gaming could just be a coping mechanism for something already known, such as depression or loneliness.

Indeed, rather than taking the easy option of blaming video games, parents of ‘addicted’ children may want to turn their judgement inwards, and ask themselves: Am I responsible for my child’s behaviour?; is my child behaving in a unhealthy way?; am I responsible for my child behaving in a unhealthy way, rather than the video games they play?

Unfortunately, however, the WHO’s ruling last week has made this kind of introspection even less likely.

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