Gaming: Hobby or Addiction?
In 2005, a South Korean man named Lee Seung Seop died after a 50-hour marathon session of StarCraft. This was one of the first gaming-related deaths to make international news. In the years since, there have been a number of deaths related to marathon play sessions. This is the most extreme result of video game addiction. To be clear, the vast majority of gamers don’t have a problem, but it’s worth exploring when gaming can become harmful.
What Do Experts Say?
The World Health Organization has included gaming disorder in its International Classification of Diseases, eleventh edition (ICD-11). The American Psychiatric Association has described addiction to gaming in their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) but do not yet classify it as its own disorder. They do note that more research is needed.
Here’s how the ICD-11 characterizes gaming disorder:
“A pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour, which may be online or offline, manifested by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”
Experts note that you can’t really measure gaming disorder by the amount of time spent gaming. For example, a person who spends 18 hours playing God of War on a Saturday might just be a passionate fan of the game. If this person isn’t neglecting their own health, work life, or social obligations to play a marathon game session, they’re just gaming.
By contrast, a person who plays an hour here or there but isn’t meeting work deadlines, eating only junk or not at all, damaging social relationships due to gaming, or otherwise damaging their health might have gaming disorder.
A 2010 study found that 10% of online gamers exhibited pathological behaviour. This included increased depression, aggression, shyness, and anxiety. A 2017 study identified a number of risk factors for gaming addiction, including dysfunctional impulsivity, brief self-control, and pursuit of desired appetitive goals.
But How Can a Game Be Addictive?
When most people think of addiction, they think of chemical addiction. That is, an addict takes a chemical that alters their brain chemistry. Gaming disorder is a behavioural addiction. That is, the addict’s behaviour alters their brain chemistry.
Most study of behavioural addiction started with gambling, but plenty of behaviours can be addictive, including eating, sex, shopping, social media, internet browsing, TV watching, physical exercise, and more.
Is This Common?
No. A 2021 review found that only 3%-4% of gamers have gaming disorder.
So, What Can Be Done?
A growing number of mental health professionals are treating gaming addiction. In fact, there’s even an addiction clinic in Toronto that offers gaming disorder treatment. If you suspect that your relationship with video games has become problematic, it’s worth speaking to someone.