Scientists Have Debated Video Game Addiction For Years, And The Results Are Fascinating
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Scientists Have Debated Video Game Addiction For Years, And The Results Are Fascinating

Is video game addiction real? The debate has raged ever since the 1970s when arcades began popping up on neighborhood corners - kids would dump every quarter of their allowance into easily time-consuming games like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. Human beings already must deal with a plethora of dangerous habits, and many believe video games have become one of many strange addictions.

As of 2019, the World Health Organization has officially classified video game dependency as a legitimate mental health disorder. Although there are several medical boards who would disagree, the more important question is: How do you treat video game addiction? Multiple schools of thought advise on how to handle the perceived problem.

The information below will hopefully shed some light on both sides of the issue, whether you're a dedicated gamer or concerned parent. Although professionals have decided the disorder is diagnosable, there are still many questions surrounding video game addiction.

  • Video Game Dependency Is Classified As A Mental Health Disorder
    Photo: Unknown / Max Pixel / Public Domain

    Video Game Dependency Is Classified As A Mental Health Disorder

    The World Health Organization's (WHO) International Classification of Diseases described video game dependency as "a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior [that] takes precedence over other life interests" and is therefore a diagnosable disorder. 

    Shekhar Saxena, an expert on dependency who works for the WHO, cited a limited number of cases in which people have foregone daily necessities such as sleep, work, food, and school to play video games, logging up to 20 hours a day. 

    For years, such a dependency was undiagnosable and was equated to afflictions like compulsive gambling due to the similarity in symptoms. This change in perspective will allow those who suffer with video game dependency to seek treatment "if such behavior persists for around a year," according to Saxena. 

  • Those With Gaming Dependencies Often Demonstrate Addictive Behavior

    Those who claim to suffer from video game dependency often display the same types of symptoms associated with other recognized conditions. Video game "addicts" often demonstrate declining performance in work or school, as well as avoidance of personal responsibility, as they may choose to spend their free time playing games.

    Additionally, they can lose interest in virtually all activities besides gaming and appear incapable of quitting gaming for more than a few days. While doctors may disagree on whether or not gaming dependency is real, it's clear excessive gaming wreaks legitimate consequences on those who claim to suffer from the condition.

  • America May Have More Than 3 Million Gaming-Dependent Teens

    A 2009 study conducted by Dr. Douglas Gentile at Iowa State University found that "8.5 percent of American youths ages 8 to 18 who play video games show multiple signs of behavioral addiction." These statistics indicate more than 3 million American youths could suffer from this affliction - a number eclipsing the Americans suffering from coke dependency by around 1 million.

    While medical professionals seemingly can't agree upon the criteria for diagnosing a legitimate gaming compulsion, Gentile surveyed nearly 1,800 gamers and labeled those with more than six of the 11 symptoms of compulsive gambling as "pathological gamers." 

  • Some Dependent Gamers Have Contemplated Self-Harm

    The real-world consequences of known conditions, such as compulsive gambling, are often present in those suffering from video game dependency. While many dependent gamers experience devastating effects resulting from their habit, such as financial instability and the dissolution of interpersonal relationships, others may even contemplate ending their own lives due to their self-proclaimed condition.

    Charles Bracke, for example, played Mega Man on the NES as a child. Over years, his hobby became more extreme, eventually transforming into a full-blown obsession by the time Ultima Online - a multiplayer role-playing game - was released.

    After dropping out of college twice and losing his real-estate job because of his gaming obsession, he contemplated ending his own life. He even planned out and prepared for the entire scenario, including the notes he planned to leave for his family. Fortunately, Bracke's relatives noticed his struggle and enrolled him in the reSTART Center for Technology Sustainability, a facility treating those suffering from compulsive gaming.

    Many other gamers suffering from dependency experience similar thoughts, lending further credence to the notion that impulse control - the official codification of the issue by the DSM - may not be a high-enough classification for the condition.

  • Video Game Dependency Affects More Than Just Teenage Boys
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    Video Game Dependency Affects More Than Just Teenage Boys

    While the majority of those with debilitating gaming habits appear to be teenage males, they are not the only demographic suffering from the condition. Vice interviewed numerous dependent gamers online and came across a 41-year-old recovering problem drinker who began dabbling in online activities. He eventually became so enamored with online puzzles and strategy games, he suffered multiple drinking relapses, eventually culminating in his separation from his wife.

    Patricia, a 69-year-old librarian, used World of Warcraft to escape her reality so often, she missed holiday dinners and family visits. She also strained her relationship with her husband, who contracted a terminal disease in the midst of her gaming spiral. She did eventually break away from her habit, providing care for her husband until he passed, later saying of their relationship, "I wasted all our time together. We could have been doing all kinds of things, but I was just gaming."

  • One Woman's Gaming Dependency Proved Fatal For Her 3-Year-Old Daughter

    In 2011, Rebecca Colleen Christie was sentenced to 25 years in prison for causing the demise of her 3-year-old daughter due to neglect. Christie was an avid fan of the massive multiplayer role-playing game World of Warcraft, playing lengthy sessions that could last more than 12 hours.

    Her daughter was left with only cat food to eat and nothing to drink while Christie spent time online. Role-playing games like World of Warcraft are some of the most commonly referenced types of entertainment in gaming-dependency debates, mostly due to their engrossing nature and necessary time commitment. 

    While Christie's neglect of her daughter - and resulting imprisonment - is a fringe example, some believe such cases provide credence to the notion that gaming dependency should be treated as a legitimate mental disorder.