In the U.S. 66% of households have at least one person who plays video games according to the Entertainment Software Association. In addition, approximately 160 million adults are internet-based gamers. Gaming is fun, engaging, and provides a competitive mental outlet. Can gaming also be addictive? It’s a question health experts and researchers are increasingly asking. The debate is germane given the incredible investment of time and money many individuals spend on the growing trend.
Is It an Addiction?
The ongoing debate is far from a conclusion. Here we’ll look at the growing trend of online and video gaming, from both a social and a psychological perspective. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is used by clinicians to classify and diagnosis a range of psychological issues ranging from anxiety to substance abuse to hoarding. At this point in time, problem gaming is not a behavior listed in the DSM-5. It is, however, a proposed condition and experts are conducting research to determine if and when problem gaming becomes a recognized disorder. The mental health experts who signed off on the 2013 edition of the DSM determined there was a lack of evidence at that time to merit including problem gaming as a unique mental disorder. They recommended that Internet gaming be subject to further research, alongside several other conditions including caffeine use disorder.
The following symptoms are some of those thought to be part of a non-productive preoccupation with gaming:
- Jeopardizing or losing a job or relationship due to gaming
- Withdrawal symptoms (sadness, anxiety, irritability) when gaming is unavailable
- Loss of interest or giving up previously enjoyed activities due to gaming
- A need to spend more and more time gaming to satisfy the urge
- Deceiving significant others about the amount of time spent gaming
- Unsuccessful attempts to quit gaming and/or inability to decrease time spent playing
- The use of gaming to relieve feelings such as hopelessness or guilt
In order for a diagnosis of internet gaming disorder to be made, an individual would need to report a certain number of symptoms within a year’s time.
What Do Professionals Say?
The World Health Organization (WHO) publishes a comparable version of the DSM, the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). In contrast to the DSM, the 11th edition of the ICD released in 2018, lists gaming as a new disorder. Should gaming be classified as a disorder in the next version of DSM? The research on the matter has not been conclusive. Some research shows that there are similar neurologic changes that take place with gaming and substance use. But, a 2017 study in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that among gaming subjects most did not report any of the proposed symptoms of Internet gaming disorder and that the percentage of those who may meet the criteria was extremely small. The authors concluded that a range of 0.3 to 1.0% of the general population potentially may qualify for an Internet gaming disorder diagnosis. They went on to say that in this matter it is crucial to recognize and understand the difference between ardent engagement, e.g. enthusiasm and focus, versus pathology, with the amount of distress a key distinguishing factor.
For the time being, the debate and research concerning gaming will continue, with some seeing problem gaming as a symptom of an underlying issue, including anxiety and depression, versus a distinct disorder or unique addiction. The professional disagreement, some might say dilemma, is aptly summed up by a statement issued by The Proceedings of the National Academy of: “Adding video gaming to the list of recognized behavioral addictions could help millions in need. It could also pathologize normal behavior and create a new stigma.”
How Big is Gaming?
What is not open to debate is the social popularity of gaming—in 2018 Americans reportedly spent over $40 billion on video games. In 2019, the U.S. video game market was valued at nearly $20 billion dollars. Gaming is not a question of age or gender, either. According to the Entertainment Software Association, 45% of all American gamers are female and the average gamer hovers around 34-years of age, proving that video games aren’t simple child’s play. By many estimates, video gaming is increasing in popularity among U.S. senior citizens, with mental alertness and fun among the primary reasons given by older gamers for their hobby. In 2019 three genres led the pack in popularity: action, strategy, and action-adventure. As of 2018, there were also three major players in the video game industry: Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft. While Nintendo is the number one brand, as of 2019, Sony’s PlayStation 4 console was approaching the 100 million mark. The Entertainment Software Association also reports that roughly 60% of U.S. citizens play video games daily, resulting in a multi-billion dollar industry that supports around 200,000 jobs. It’s clear that gaming is an entrenched part of the entertainment landscape.
When does this hobby cross the line from fun entertainment to an addictive problem? According to the experts, the answer depends on a variety of issues, and the professional mental health community is far from agreement on whether or not problematic gaming behavior should be considered a disorder. What is clear is that any behavior which is causing you or someone you care about distress or impacts normal function is cause for concern. Do not hesitate to talk with a health care professional if gaming is negatively impacting your life or the life of a loved one.
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