World Health Organization Gaming Disorder Doesn't Recognize Other Risks

Gaming is fun but now the WHO says it can be an addictive disorder. (c) Nintendo

Good news! As it turns out, your gaming habits are not because you’re a shiftless louse with zero prospects or self control, you’re just a regrettable victim of “mental illness.” The very same plague that caused Van Gogh to beat himself to sleep with severed branches, and Virginia Woolf to drown herself in the River Ouse is causing you to binge PUBG. In an early draft for the updated International Classification of Diseases the World Health Organization lists Gaming Disorder in the company of other addictions. The documents reads as follows:

Gaming disorder is characterized by a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour (‘digital gaming’ or ‘video-gaming’), which may be online (i.e., over the internet) or offline, manifested by: 1) impaired control over gaming (e.g., onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination, context); 2) increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities; and 3) continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.

I’d be more sympathetic to the validity of these findings had they come to light during a time when “Whoa is me” wasn’t so in vogue. This is not the sort of thing I can censure with anything resembling ease. For starters, the vast majority of our readership undoubtedly spends a lot of their time playing video games, and I have no intention of generalizing or offending. One also has to consider the medium’s place in the larger spectrum of entertainment. There are some extraordinary artistic achievements out there and I would hate to give detractors any cause to continue not to take gaming culture seriously. However, there’s a poisonous trend  emerging in our culture that romanticizes diseases of the mind.

The label itself “mental illness” has become a sort of cheat code. A shortcut to procuring an air of mystique, a reason not to take responsibility for one’s actions, a mark of which to revel in sordid communities. It must be understood, we are all to some extent slaves to our biology. Fundamental shortcomings cannot and should not be pawned off on chemical imbalances.

I’m not on principle oppose to re-evaluating excessive video game playing as a potential result of serious brain abnormalities. And I don’t exactly fall in line with the idea that doing so trivializes already established mental disorders. You can’t have a monopoly on suffering and that mindset in and of itself is suggestive of a person thinking about this in a shamefully uncharitable way. I can square finding common ground between the two positions by broadening the topic to addiction as a whole. It’s the kind of thing one only truly understands by observing it first hand, but compulsion, either chemical or habitual is a powerful peddler. To those that might deem it unfair to categorize an addiction to video games with things like heroin or crack, I’d say, on balance, distinctions between the two breeds of addiction must be made, while adding I am by no means deaf to the alluring call of escapism. It’s an easy trap to fall into and therefore terribly arduous one to climb out of. The best games are designed to keep you invested, sometimes by healthy literary means like compelling characters and realised worlds, and sometimes through more seamy methods, like leaderboards and loot boxes.

In any case if the things around you begin to suffer because you can’t keep the analogue down, I get it. Seek help,  get it taken care of. I just warn against hiding behind a diagnosis. That isn’t what diagnosis is for. In fact the point is the diametric opposite. The idea is to find out exactly what kind of ailment afflicts you so that professionals can be better equipped to repudiate it-destroy it. Reject the provisional standard that suggests you lean on your “disorder”, better yourself only if its convenient, and utilize it as a perfunctory “it wasn’t me, it was my brain.” You are your brain, ill or otherwise.


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