The past month or so and the coming weeks mean people will be spending more time at home due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This results in a need to entertain themselves at-home with activities such as board games, baking, gardening, and playing video games. For many, this is a bright spot in an otherwise dark time in the world. But in some cases, it’s an opportunity to indulge a disorder that was already detrimental to their health.
People over-playing video games has been an issue since games became a part of mainstream culture. But it wasn’t until 2019 that the World Health Organization (WHO) classified an unhealthy obsession with playing as a disorder in the International Classification of Diseases.
Gaming Disorder occurs when a person cannot control the time he or she spends playing games. In these cases, gaming is prioritized over most other things in life. Additionally playing or thinking about playing triggers negative effects in life.
The WHO’s classification of Gaming Disorder is similar to Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD), which the American Psychiatric Association classified as needing further research in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). It is not yet officially recognized as a condition.
Symptoms of Gaming Disorders
Not all people with problems playing video games present the same, but the WHO lists the following symptoms as being indicative of a Gaming Disorder:
– Lack of control over gaming
– Placing gaming as a higher priority than other activities and interests
– Continuing play of games despite negative consequences
To indicate a disorder, these symptoms would normally be present for at least a year.
Keep in mind, a “problem with video games” or thinking someone plays too much doesn’t necessarily indicate a disorder. To be a disorder or addiction, gaming needs to affect all aspects of someone’s life, including social and family life, work or education, and personal life.
“Male adolescents and young adults are the most vulnerable to developing gaming problems,” says Cam Adair, founder of Game Quitters and a former video game addict himself who would play up to 16 hours a day. “My gaming got to the point where I dropped out of high school and pretended to have jobs to deceive my family.”
Gaming Disorder tends to be more common when there is a co-occurring condition. This means someone with an anxiety disorder or depression has a higher risk of developing a problem with gaming. Additionally, people with a Gaming Disorder have a higher risk of sleep problems, obesity, and other health issues.
Gaming during Coronavirus
Despite the awareness of a potential problem for some, the WHO acknowledges that gaming can be beneficial during our current health pandemic. The organization feels strongly enough about the benefits that it has partnered with members of the gaming industry to support a campaign known as #PlayApartTogether.
The campaign encourages people to use gaming as a replacement for in-person interactions. They believe it’s a healthy way to maintain connections with one another while still physically social distancing during the COVID-19 outbreak.
According to Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision, “It has never been more critical to ensure people stay safely connected to one another. Games are the perfect platform because they connect people through the lens of joy, purpose, and meaning. We are proud to participate in such a worthwhile and necessary initiative.”
Those in support of the campaign believe gaming is a great way to entice people to stay indoors during this time. It is especially appealing to younger people who already enjoyed gaming. Multi-player gaming is beneficial because it’s a way to connect with friends and take time away from the minute-to-minute news updates that can be stressful for everyone.
Is this a confusing or hypocritical position for the WHO to take after declaring too much gaming to be a disorder?
Not necessarily, especially during these unprecedented times in which the world finds itself. Adair says, “WHO’s classification of gaming disorder was distinct from normal gaming behavior. #PlayApartTogether is a fine campaign to encourage physical distancing, but I would like the industry to advocate for more balanced play.”
Although those with an existing disorder might not benefit from encouragement to stay home and play all they want, the average person will welcome an enjoyable at-home activity like gaming. The choice to stay indoors and play also benefits other people because it’s one less person who could potentially spread the virus.
The goal of physical distancing is to prevent the spread of COVID-19, not isolate yourself socially. It’s important to find alternative ways to socialize and connect with others. Gaming offers a relatively safe option for most to do this, but it’s not the only way, and Adair and others are choosing to stay home while remaining game-free.
Risks of Gaming
Even without a disorder, though, there are risks associated with gaming. Before you commit time in your day to gaming or allow your children to game with minimal to no supervision, it’s important to understand these risks. Safe gaming requires avoiding:
– Social interactions with harmful predators
– Revealing personal or financial information
– Malicious software, viruses, worms, and other security vulnerabilities on your gaming devices
Many of the risks we face in real life also exist in the online world where gaming takes place. People who aren’t familiar with gaming might fail to realize this, instead assuming online gaming during the COVID-19 outbreak is, literally, all fun and games. Awareness of the risks can help you and your family avoid problems.
General computer security is essential for safe gaming. It’s also important to understand risks related specifically to gaming, such as what can happen if you operate in Administrator Mode or if you need to relax security settings on your device. Before playing, familiarize yourself with the risks involved and take the appropriate measures to mitigate these risks.
Should You Be Concerned about Gaming Disorders?
For most people, the answer to this question is “probably not.”
Some experts believe video games can be beneficial, even when there isn’t a health pandemic. Under so-called normal circumstances, games offer social and cognitive benefits, especially for kids. These benefits are enhanced during the unusual times in which we currently find ourselves.
But if a problem was brewing, this extra time at home with a lack of other options can turn a potential disorder into one that is full-blown. Gaming Disorder is not widespread, but it’s important to know the symptoms and monitor how much time you or your children are dedicating to gameplay, even now.
Finally, remember gaming is a great option during the COVID-19 outbreak for passing time and interacting with others, but it’s not the only option. It’s possible to curb a potential gaming addiction by also incorporating other activities that offer mental stimulation and physical activity. Finding a balance that might include more gaming now than usual will be the right mix for most people.