August 14, 2018

What is a Gaming Disorder?

Anxiety & Depression
Mental Health & Wellbeing

News officiating Gaming Disorder landed as a mark of progress to some and poorly to others. Video games have had a divisive history in the mental health community for some time. One party pressed that video game addiction is an official issue which concerns our diagnostic criteria identifying it as a clinical condition. In the other camp, professionals have resisted the push for an official diagnosis. This was for fear of creating a climate of parents who could over-diagnosing their children with gaming issues.

A New Diagnosis

At the beginning of 2018, the World Health Organization, officially included “Gaming Disorder,” into the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). The ICD is the global equivalent of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, (DSM), that the United States predominantly uses for diagnoses. It is an important tool that many mental health practitioners utilize to determine psychiatric diagnoses and their treatment recommendations, (a.k.a. very official!). Now that we have this new diagnosis, let’s take a closer look at how Gaming Disorder appears in layman terms.

What is Gaming Disorder?

The seriousness concerning the difference of opinion toward Gaming Disorder is widespread, so let’s define how this looks clinically speaking. Gaming Disorder is described as an impairment in control over digital and/or video gaming, with an increased priority of continuing to game over other activities. This is to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and even daily activities with an escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences. The behavior pattern must contain sufficient severity to result in substantial impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. Symptoms should be present for at least 12 months before a diagnosis is achieved. The WHO also clarified that the “cases of the condition are still very rare, with no more than three percent of all gamers believed to be affected.” Personally, I believe it will take time to see if officializing Gaming Disorder will have a positive or negative impact on the community. On one hand, this can be an open door to provide much-needed care for individuals who are experiencing severe problems with gaming. Occasionally there is news of someone dying from playing video games for too long, but there are many unreported cases of uncontrolled video gaming that would credit causing problems in the person’s relationships, academics, occupation and so forth. This official diagnosis may provide the avenue for resources to be given to help these individuals find a healthy balance of video game use in their lives. On the other hand, like any diagnosis, this could create a stigma about video games. Parents may become over-vigilant about their child’s video game use and see a problem that may not really be there. Enthusiastic games may be misconstrued to be addicts that are in denial about their problem. My hope is that these new criteria will not be misused to ‘treat’ people who are healthy or who simply need more guidance.” People need to understand this doesn’t mean every child who spends hours in their room playing games is an addict, otherwise, medics are going to be flooded with requests for help,” – Dr. Joan Harvey

How to Identify a Clinical Issue vs. Hobby

What can we do to help discern whether or not our child or friend may be struggling with a gaming problem? First and foremost, talk to them! Ask them what they are playing! Engage with them. If they are reluctant to share with you, they may be afraid you’d potentially take away something they care about. Go in with an open mind, and a genuine interest, to see what they are connecting with. If you see your child turning away from social interaction and closing themselves off in their room playing games, gently enter into their world in hopes to understand what is going on. Something in the virtual world is likely fulfilling what they are missing in the real world. These can be teachable moments, and maybe even the guidance they need to help them navigate life. Too often we quickly judge that they are being irresponsible due to the lack to relate and ignore what their relationship is with what they are playing. Exploring how they connect with their video games can help you understand how they connect with people. If you notice them playing longer and longer, it could be simply they are finding great enjoyment in the game or it is providing a path of escape that they may not even be aware, which is very different from the clinical diagnosis we went over.

In Conclusion

Overall, be open and curious! Entering into their world may reveal that there is no problem at all. If there is a problem, by entering into their world you can potentially help someone find the way out. Come alongside your friend or family member, rather than yelling at them from a distance. They are more likely to trust they need help rather than run away from you!

Gaming Disorder is still a young diagnosis but in my experience those who have found themselves trapped in virtual worlds rather than living their lives’ reality very much harbor or shut away their emotional pain. If this article has rung true for your or a friend suffering presently with a Gaming Disorder, please take five minutes to speak with me. I’m very passionate about creating a balance between virtuality and reality and have the time and training to assist anyone who may need professional support.


Written by therapist Daniel Pak

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