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WHO says video game addiction is a new mental health disorder. Does the research agree?

POSTED December 30, 2017 1:30 a.m.
Playing too many video games may soon lead to a mental health disorder diagnosis.

The World Health Organization included a“gaming disorder” in its draft of new diseases to prepare for in 2018.

The disorder is defined as an ongoing and persistent habit of "sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning,” according to a new beta draft of the 11th International Classification of Disease.

The disorder includes “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.”

The draft guidance said video game playing must be evident for at least 12 months.

Health care professionals can diagnose people who play for a shorter amount of time if the conditions are severe.

Gregory Hartl, a spokesman for the WHO, told CNN that the new entry on a gaming disorder "includes only a clinical description and not prevention and treatment options."

Hartl said health professionals use the draft of diseases to diagnose conditions.

Dr. Chris Ferguson told gaming news website Kotaku that he has “considerable concerns about this proposed diagnosis.”

He said many researchers are comparing gaming addiction to heroin or cocaine addiction, which is a mistake.

There are many myths such as that games involve dopamine and brain regions similar to substance abuse,” Ferguson said. “There’s a kernel of truth to that but only insofar as any pleasurable activity activates these regions. How gaming involves them is more similar to other fun activities like eating chocolate, having sex, getting a good grade, etc., not heroin or cocaine.”

Similarly, University of Oxford psychologist Andrew Przybylski said it’s a “bad idea” to identify gaming an addiction.

The diagnosis risks “stigmatizing millions of players and may divert limited mental health resources from core psychiatric problems such as depression or anxiety which might be at the heart of problematic play,” he told Kotaku.

The debate has existed for years about whether or not video games have positive benefits. Back in 2015, experts wondered if video games could help children manage medical issues like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression and autism, according to the Deseret News.

Earlier this month, a study from researchers at the University of Montreal found that video games can keep elderly brains sharp. People age 55 to 75 were asked to either play piano or play “Super Mario 64” for 30 minutes a day for five or more days a week.

“Playing video games appears to be awesome for an older person’s hippocampus, an area of the brain which is particularly important to our memory functions,” according to Uproxx.

Matt Omernick, executive creative director of Akili, a startup that’s developing a video game that aimed to help children with mental health disorders., told NPR in 2015 that video games have the ability to improve cognitive skills.

"The qualities of a good video game, things that hook you, what makes the brain snap, engage and go, could be a perfect vessel for actually delivering medicine," he said.

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