#Footnotes is Rachelle Riddle's weekly Explainer column about what's going on beneath the surface of the world of gaming.
Video game addiction is a term often thrown around when we hear about extreme cases in the media. It also seems to be a favorite accusation in relationships from a disapproving parent or significant other over the person's playtime. Recently there was a proposal to add "gaming disorder" to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) and the International Compendium of Diseases (ICD). Unfortunately video game addiction is fraught with misconceptions and stigmas that make it a tricky subject to handle.
There's No Set or Measurable Definition
Video game addiction isn't quantifiable. What constitutes addiction versus an enjoyable hobby? How many hours must one play before they're considered addicted? Is the person who works a full-time job and then goes home and plays video games every night addicted? Is the teenager who stays up all night playing addicted?
Parents may view their kids ignoring their chores and homework in order to play video games as addiction, but I used to do the same thing with books. A lot of times addiction is used to mean "I disapprove of how often you do this" rather than "this is having a dangerous or negative effect on your life."
There's Not Enough Research
In order to be classified as a medical disorder, there has to be research and studies into the issue. In 2007, the American Psychological Association put together a list of possible video game addiction symptoms in order to help studies remain accurate. They included obsession with video games, withdrawals, failure to stop playing despite attempts, loss of other hobbies, lying about usage, and forsaking relationships for video games.
Of the nine total symptoms they listed, a person had to match five to be considered having a gaming disorder, as well as experience significant distress when attempting to negate the effects of playing video games. Of the studies that have been done in the decade since then, most have been susceptible to self-reported surveys and lack of scope or context. The most recent survey, the largest yet, spanned 19,000 people and found only 2-3% were sufferers of a "gaming disorder." It's a good start, but there needs to be more in order to properly classify anything.
It's Stigmatized By Extremes
We've all heard the worst stories. Parents ignoring their children in order to play games, brothers becoming so engrossed that they defecate where they sit and ignore their house being robbed. Some people have even died. People blame the games and trot out the statistics. If a person dies after a 12 hour gaming marathon, it gets much more press than the person who died while sitting in front of their TV. Unfortunately, those are the stories people remember, and stories of people playing video games and having perfectly normal, enriched lives aren't reported on.
It's Judged More Harshly Than Other Entertainment Media
Video game addiction is thrown around a lot, but you don't really hear about television, movie, or book addiction. Action movies and violence on television don't receive the same treatment. It seems to have become a way to vilify rather than actually help. Often when you hear the addiction term, it's from someone who doesn't like that the other person is gaming. Unlike alcohol or drug addiction, which can be measured medically, video game addiction is speculative.
Perhaps it stems from the perception of video games as being violent in the media or seen as a childish endeavor. While video games started out as an adult activity in the 1980s, Nintendo's marketing for children quickly turned the perception around from niche activity to a new toy. Unfortunately that has become a stigma and makes video games seem as though they aren't worth the time or effort invested. Some people spend all their time reading or watching TV or following sports, but those aren't ever labeled as dangerous. Video games are more interactive than television, but the addiction label is thrown more often at gamers than those who watch TV for an equivalent or longer time.
Is It An Escape Or Addiction?
Video games do hit those neurons in our brains that cause pleasure or fun. That's what MMOs rely on — offering rewards but keeping players coming back for more. But it's hard to tell where the enjoyment ends and the addiction begins. Sometimes the video games are a symptom rather than a cause. They may be a coping mechanism or a means to escape stress, anxiety, or depression.
Granted, ignoring mental issues and coping with video games isn't healthy, but the cause is elsewhere and the video game addiction is only a symptom of a larger problem. On the other hand, video games can actually help with these issues. Our own writers have written about how video games helped with their depression or anxiety. They also actively help our brains and cognitive functions.
More studies will need to be done to figure out the depth of video game addiction and whether it's a true medical issue. Only time will tell whether the cons outweigh the pros.
What do you think about video game addiction?