Gaming addiction: It’s time to stop panicking and start educating

Earlier this week, the World Health Organization (WHO) listed 'gaming disorder' as a mental health condition in its latest International Classification of Diseases (ICD) paper.

This news has been making the headlines since January 2018, but this week more reports appeared - including a controversial BBC one - as the ICD paper launched. Now more reports suggest the inclusion is a 'moral panic'. Esports News UK editor Dom Sacco offers his opinion on the topic.

I find it surprising the likes of the World Health Organization have taken this long to recognise video game addiction.

I'm not going to write an article on a high horse claiming video games are the greatest things ever and pretending there's nothing wrong with them. Of course there are things wrong with them - toxicity, game delays, game length (okay the last one is probably just a problem for parents like me), but you get my point.

People can get addicted to video games, just as they can get addicted to sugar, gambling, shopping - whatever the vice is.

I'll be lying if I said I've never felt addicted to games before. I played the **** out of World of Warcraft from 2005 to 2007 and enjoyed every damn minute of it. Did I play it too much? Undoubtedly. But I had time - I was at university. Did it affect my grades or my social life? Absolutely not, I got a 2:1, had a great group of friends and met my wife at uni. Do I regret playing it the amount I did? Not one bit.

 

"It's down to us as a gaming community to educate these people. To provide a balanced viewpoint, to let them know when what they are saying is inaccurate. To show how great games can be."

 

But here's the thing. I knew, even when I was playing it til 4am sometimes, that it was a game. A game confined to my leisure time. I knew I had things to do in real life, that the game could not cross over into: lectures, a friend's birthday drinks, a phone call with my parents, and so on.

For others, it was not as black and white. I remember reading reports of the internet cafe users who died after going on gaming binges days at a time without sleeping, or the baby that starved to death because its parents were playing a virtual game. Or the pro snooker player who almost wrecked his career playing too many games. I remember watching this mini-documentary on the teenager who was 'addicted' to World of Warcraft:

Of course, when the mainstream media get their hands on a story like this, it can get a little out of control.

The BBC produced a report muddying the matter - they mentioned gaming addiction but also added a line about playing for '20 hours a week', or around two to three hours a day. A lot of people probably spend as much or more time watching TV or reading, and to call that an addiction would be absurd.

The gaming community of course called this out - rightfully so - and it seems that the BBC's '20 hours' headline has now been removed. I had to post a tweet of my own highlighting how playing games for that long means nothing and you can get addicted to anything. It's bad there's stories like that demonise gaming, because it's not a monster.

I saw a range of opinions fielded in response to my tweet. Some disagreed with me, others agreed or had different views. 'Bad parenting', 'poor time management' and '20 hours is nothing' sprung out. Which ties me into my next point.

 

Let's keep educating

I think a lot of the negative views towards video gaming comes back to a lack of understanding. The media, parents, occasionally even politicians - they like to blame video games when it suits them.

But there really is a range of fantastic benefits games can offer to everyone - when played in moderation - and I want to highlight that. Whether it's improving your leadership, communication or team skills in a multiplayer game, boosting your reaction times or logic/critical thinking, even your reading ability (look at games like Pillars of Eternity with its reams of text and interesting stories), or just having a fun group activity.

Games provide escapism, an outlet. Games and esports have helped people with mental health conditions. There's so much games can offer and I think we've barely scratched the surface. Look at VR - it allows people with physical disabilities to do things they might not be able to do in real life: climb mountains, fly a plane, go deep sea diving.

And that's not to mention all the jobs the games industry has created over the decades.

I've seen too many people not understanding games going on to demonize them. For me, it's not the youngsters who play too much that's the problem, it's the parents and others who don't get them, they don't really know what's going on.

The mother who wants Fortnite banned because it 'changed' her 10-year-old son.

The school that claims gaming is as bad as drug abuse:

This Daily Star article about Harry Kane playing 100+ games of Fortnite at the England World Cup in Russia. The paper just can't help itself, quoting an 'addiction expert' saying things like playing video games too much affects pupils' school performance, has a debilitating effect on footballers the next day as it could give them muscle cramps, and other sensationalist comments.

What worries me is when people confuse all this talk of gaming addiction with esports. Again, it comes down to people perhaps not knowing the difference between video games and esports. They are two different things, as we all know, and pro players put in many hours of practice most days. As they should, it's their job.

Look at pro footballers or swimmers or athletes, they too will practice hard. This doesn't mean every gamer does.

It's down to us as a gaming community to educate these people. To provide a balanced viewpoint, to let them know when what they are saying is inaccurate. To show how great games can be.

After all the hoo-hah this week, it was nice to see the BBC attempt fairer coverage of the gaming addiction story at least, reporting experts' views that the WHO gaming addiction listing is nothing more than a 'moral panic'. 

So let's stop panicking, people. It's just video games. Yes, some people can get addicted to them, but many more will benefit from them too. Let's not forget that.

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