Events, podcasts, research

Disorder-ly Conduct: Gaming as an Addiction?

October is Health Literacy Month and November 5-9 is National Media Literacy Week. So it seems appropriate to title this podcast episode, “Disorder-ly Conduct: Is Gamer Addiction a Thing?” To loiter with me around this question is my colleague, Dr. Christopher McKinley, who specializes in health communication and media effects in examining the role that messages play in shaping individual’s health perceptions and behaviors.

The World Health Organization’s recently listed in their International Classification of Diseases that gaming addiction is a mental disorder.

Gaming Disorder is a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences. For gaming disorder to be diagnosed, the behaviour pattern must be of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months.

Pew Research Center statistics from 2017 tell us that young men make up a disproportionately large share of people who play video games in the United States. But about four-in-ten women and roughly a quarter of Americans ages 65 and older also say they play video games at least sometimes. These statistics don’t exactly paint a picture that warrants moral panic. For example, puzzle and strategy games are among the most popular types of video games. (They considered video game use across computer, TV, game console or smart phone)

But here’s the thing: According to the WHO only 3% of the 2.6 billion gamers worldwide are impacted by this disorder. This may be one of the reasons why there has been push back from psychology experts that say that the WHO is premature in its diagnosis.

In 2016, a group of academics published a response paper in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions calling for a repeal of at that time was a preliminary inclusion of Gaming Disorder as a disease. They argued that making this a “disorder” would:

  • Instigate a moral panic around the harm of video gaming and premature diagnoses.
  • Treatment of false-positive cases, especially for children and adolescents.
  • Lock research into a confirmatory approach, rather than an exploration of the boundaries of normal versus pathological.
  • Generate significant stigma to the millions of children who play video games as a part of a normal, healthy life.

Earlier this year, The Conversation pointed out that the research evidence is “largely exploratory, where data analysis plans and hypotheses are settled on after data collection. What is currently missing is a body of studies where scientists preregister their methods and hypotheses prior to collecting data samples online.” The community of psychology experts also assert that gaming addiction may not be directly related to mental or physical health on its own. More research is needed before pathologizing gaming.

For further conversation:

In 2009, a South Korean couple let their 3-month-old daughter starve to death while they spent up to 12 hours a day playing “Prius Online” at a local internet cafe. This was the subject of the 2014 documentary “Love Child” that aired on HBO. Ironically, in “Prius,” players take care of an “anima,” a child-like character, so the couple was neglecting their real life child to care for a virtual one. The Daily Beast reported that:

“According to police, the child’s mother had never gone to the hospital until it was time to deliver. She had never received vaccines or checkups. She fed the baby spoiled milk and was, the investigator says, “completely ignorant” of how to raise a child. After the infant’s death, the parents, afraid to alert police, had done online searches for funeral arrangements before calling the authorities.”

But the courts in 2010 found that the couple suffered from an addiction to the Internet and gave them minimal jail time (the Father received 2 years in prison, the mother received a three-year suspended sentence. At the time of their trial she was pregnant with their second child).

Lay this against a Vice News report on gamer rehab program called reSTART in Seattle. The first phase of the program, which includes no contact with the outside world and daily therapy sessions, usually lasts two months and costs $30,000. After that, recovering gaming addicts live in halfway houses with their fellow patients. The second phase costs $7,000 a month.

In just about every case, the rehab is paid for by the patient’s parents. Patients in the program are typically in their early twenties, but some are as old as 30. “I mean I may be almost 30 years old but I’ve never actually functioned as a true adult,” Kevin, a patient at reSTART, told VICE News. “Paying my own bills, go to things on time, go make my own food. Things like that. Those are all things that I’ve never fully accomplished.”

I see some similarities between the South Korean parents who never thought of getting prenatal treatment or thinking about a baby’s feeding time and these 30-year-old (predominantly male) gamers whose parents are paying $30k for someone to teach them how to take out the garbage and make a grilled cheese sandwich.

+7 Intelligence is the podcast about how games impact people.”If you want to understand the future, you must understand gaming.” You can listen to their interview with Dr.Rachel Lawes talks about how her expertise in consumer psychology and her love of gaming overlap.

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