World Health Organization’s Junk Diagnosis for “Gaming Disorder” Trivializes Mental Illness

Of course, the WHO’s efforts aren’t the only ones to receive controversy. The American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) provisional diagnosis of “Internet Gaming Disorder” (IGD) has proven unpopular among many scholars. In fairness to the WHO their “gaming disorder” may be marginally better insofar as it focuses on interference (i.e., that gaming gets in the way of other responsibilities) rather than the problematic symptoms employed by the APA’s IGD. The APA assumed (incorrectly) that problematic gaming could be directly compared to substance abuse (it can’t), and used symptoms that are bad for, say, alcohol or cocaine, but perfectly normal for hobbies. For instance, “I sometimes use X to make myself feel better after a stressful day” is bad if X is heroin, but not so bad if X is gardening or going for a jog. Similarly, “I have given up other activities to do X more” is not good if X is heroin, but it’s normal to change hobbies from time to time. Increasingly, evidence suggests that gaming is more like other fun activities, ranging from eating food to sex to shopping to exercise to dancing, and less like heroin or methamphetamine. Of course, any fun activity can be overdone (there are even scientific papers on “dance addiction”) but there’s little evidence to suggest video games are more addictive than other behaviors. Indeed, recent prevalence figures put the rates of video game addiction at 1 percent or less among gamers, and it’s not even clear that these 1 percent are really any less psychologically or physically healthy than the other 99 percent. Most of these cases also go away by themselves, without treatment. So, the “video game addiction” concept doesn’t appear to have much clinical value.

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