Have you heard of Fortnite? What about World of Warcraft? Is your child/teen playing these or another video game to the point of distraction these days? Well, then you may be interested to learn the World Health Organization (WHO) has recently added the term “gaming disorder” to its list of mental health issues. Electronics are basically inescapable these days, but when do they become more detrimental than distracting? Here’s what you need to know that separates gaming disorder from “normal” video game use.
What exactly is gaming disorder?
According to the latest (11th) revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), it’s a pattern of behavior that’s characterized by “impaired control over gaming.” It can relate to any video game system, like Microsoft’s Xbox or the PlayStation 4, as well as digital gaming that uses smartphones and/or computers. As with many other forms of addiction, it tends to become a problem when it starts to impact other areas of your life. So, if your child is giving top priority to his/her video games, or it starts to affect their usual behavior, it could be an example of gaming disorder.
Frequently, those suffering from this condition will give their gaming precedence over everything else in their life—their friends, family, schoolwork, extracurricular activities, etc. Once they start to experience the negative effects of this decision, it may drive them to retreat deeper into their digital world. How quickly this happens will depend on the individual. However, it’s typically a pattern for 12 months (minimum) before it can be clinically diagnosed. If you’re interested in learning more from WHO regarding this disorder, visit their website here. Keep in mind that there is a lack of agreement in the mental health field about gaming disorder being a pathological condition aside from other known addictions. So you may want to check out some other sources, as well.
Why is it an issue now?
Video games have been around for nearly 50 years at this point—beginning in the 1970s with the unforgettable Pong—but things have definitely changed in recent years. Even World of Warcraft has been around for more than 10 years, with its debut in 2004, but it didn’t really hit its peak until 2010. Now, Fornite is sweeping the continent at an unprecedented rate with more than 125 million users worldwide. For most people, it’s a matter of exposure.
If nothing else, the rise of gaming disorder is a function of numbers. With millions more playing digital games, the risk of a mental health issue as a result of overuse has increased tenfold. But, they’ve never been easier to access! Fortnite, like so many other games today, is free to play. While there are in-game purchases you can make, for most people, it doesn’t require a buy-in. Plus, it can be instantly downloaded to any laptop or smartphone, so kids don’t even need to have a specific system to play. See what happens when The Guardian delves deeper into the world of gaming and their new norms here.
Should we be worried?
Well, that depends. According to recent statistics, only a very small portion of individuals who play these games actually develop gaming disorder. So, while you may want to pay a little more attention, just because your child downloads Fortnite, doesn’t mean they’ll become addicted to the game. For most kids, playing video games is typical behavior.
Try to stay in touch with them. It’s much easier to notice a problem if you’re attuned to their normal patterns of behavior. That way, if you see them avoiding their friends or favorite activities in favor of playing video games, then you can seek professional help. There’s a fine line between video gaming as a hobby and the expression of gaming disorder. So, avoid jumping to conclusions or diagnoses without taking all of the information into consideration.
Once you notice a steady decline in their physical health, psychological well-being, or social interactions, then it may be time to worry about this new mental health issue.
At Focal Points Therapy, we specialize in innovative solutions for a wide variety of mental health conditions. Together, we can approach symptoms or diagnoses, including gaming disorder, and work to create an individualized treatment plan. If you have more questions on gaming disorder or mental health in general, we’re happy to speak with you about it in greater detail. We don’t just serve our local communities in Maryland—we’re also a part of them. So, let us know if you’d like us to address your PTA or other neighborhood organization about your concerns surrounding this new disorder.