There is grave need for more convincing data to decipher the risk factors surrounding the gaming disorder.
Gaming disorder has been added to the diagnostic manual issued by the World Health Organization, but many researchers criticize the lack of scientific information and medical research in understand whether or not such a disorder truly exists. Critics believe that the criteria of identifying a gaming disorder is simply too broad, and the findings revealed so far are inconsistent and difficult to replicate.
Research conducted by the World Health Organization has set the criteria for identifying the gaming disorder as follows:
- The patient has a strong preference for gaming over all other activities.
- The individual does not even stop gaming in the event of negative consequences, such as performing badly at school or work.
- The patient’s personal life, relationships and profession is being negatively impacted by his/her compulsive gaming habits.
- The pattern of the above mentioned behavior must consistently happen for a period of at least one year.
Andrew Przybylski, a prominent psychologist from the Oxford Internet Institute and research on gaming and psychological health, is a leading critic of WHO’s criteria, and regards it to be unspecific about gaming itself. He believes that this pattern of behavior can also be adopted to how humans feel about football, sex or eating.
Medical science understands the mechanisms and compounds present in nicotine and opiates to make them so highly addictive, however, when it comes to gaming, we are clueless about how it can be addictive enough to become a compulsion. According to the definition put forward by experts to describe gaming disorder, there is little information to understand about the types of games of the kind of features that make games so addictive. The criteria is too broad altogether, which makes it rather unhelpful. It simply states that certain individuals who enjoy gaming too much do it to such an extent that they don’t do anything else. This principle can be applied to any other hobby, interest or activity which could trigger a certain “pathologization” of one’s lifestyle.
We cannot deny that there are many individuals who are challenged and struggle with everyday life because of their compulsive habits to play video games excessively, and their problematic usage of modern technology. Many critics have argued that such individuals can be given psychiatric help or therapy without specifying or labelling them with a diagnosis. They can be treated under the general diagnosis of anxiety, depression or other compulsive disorders.
In 2016, a group of researchers, including Andrew Przybylski and Michelle Colder Carras, wrote a letter to the World Health Organization, suggesting them against their decision to add gaming disorder to their diagnostic manual given the lack of scientific consensus, low quality findings and less validity of its existence. The findings threatened to trigger a stigma over results that simply cannot be generalized to the entire world.
So, what is so unsatisfactory about the research done on gaming disorder? It is alarming that researchers have failed to identify the exact number of patients who might be suffering from gaming disorder. Majority of the researchers have based their findings on data that has been collected from gaming forums or self-help platforms where people discuss and post about their gaming addictions and behaviors. It can almost be regard as inquiring about the prevalence of drug abuse by running it in a place that is frequented by drug users. Therefore, some of the findings and statistical data reveals that gaming disorder actually occurs in less than 1% of the gamers, whereas some other researches reveal that the numbers are a 100 times greater.
Various individual who are learning and researching about gaming disorder will inquire people about their addictions to technology, computer or the internet, whereas being addicted to gaming is something different. There is a wide range of other general complications as well. In most cases, researchers don’t disclose their entire findings, and they neglect to mention the variables that they intended to examine before they gathered their data, which tends to make it a lot simpler for a research to examine the data and publish the results that they were expecting to find.
The critics believe that this diagnostic criteria is simply too inconsistent and broad, which gives it the potential of trigger stigmas, taboos and misconceptions around individuals who enjoy gaming. Many researchers who support the diagnostic criteria of gaming disorder have argued that this diagnosis can aid in eliminating shooting incidents at school by slamming the use of video and role play games that promote violence and mass killings.
However, the critics believe that this diagnostic can trigger a moral panic amongst individuals, particularly parents, who do not understand the mechanisms or storylines behind video games. Making such statements can lead to family conflicts, and it would also increase the psychological treatments of children who need to be treated at all. Moreover, it would also fuel the fire of technology and the screen being regarded as digital heroin.
There can be some benefits of the addition of this diagnosis, and now that the critics have also called out with some valid points, it might encourage experts and researchers to undertake a more thorough, open and standardized study on gaming disorder. It would also promote proactive behavior amongst companies that developing these video games, encourage them to share their statistics and information. It can be scary to imagine the consequences of vulnerable people being overpowered by games, and if researchers want to understand how games can be addictive, they must obtain the data collected by video game developers.
It is also important to understand that even though the World Health Organization has garnered a great deal of criticism for regarding gaming disorder as a real disorder that actually exists, in reality, the organization has taken a great deal of care in emphasizing the word addiction. In fact, gaming disorder has been classified under disorders that have been characterized by addictive and compulsive behaviors. Naturally, categorizing gaming as an addiction in itself requires a great deal of valuable evidence, which is nonexistent at the moment. A term as unspecific as disorder is the perfect word to classify something that is as inconsistent as the findings about gaming addictions.
This encourages us all to ask that if there are individuals who are suffering with the symptoms of gaming disorder, why can’t be label it as an addiction? It is basically because addiction is a term that cannot be diluted. It is simply too broad. If there was an endless amount of money, therapy, mental health professionals and medicines, it would be appropriate to find a medical term to every ailing, and then resolve it with the help of therapy and medical treatments. However, the real world does not work like that, therefore, it is important to avoid creating new addictions, which could be just one individual’s interpretation of a behavior that is normal. Creating these new addictions would only cause normal behaviors to be stigmatized, and moreover, it would waste our resources and drive us away from elements that actually trigger mental ailments.