Understanding Gaming Disorder

Authored by Jane Squires

Edited by Alexander Bentley

Reviewed by Dr Ruth Arenas

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Gaming Disorder


In recent years, there has been a growing concern over the phenomenon of “gaming disorder.” While the jury is still out on whether or not this is a real and diagnosable condition, there is no doubt that some people do struggle with an excessive and unhealthy preoccupation with video games. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at gaming disorder and what professionals are saying about it.


Understanding Gaming Disorder


In order to understand gaming disorder, it’s important to first understand what we mean by “disorder.” A disorder is defined as “a functional impairment that causes distress or disability.” So, when we talk about gaming disorder, we’re referring to a situation in which someone’s excessive gaming habits are causing distress or interfering with their ability to function in other areas of their life.


Signs and symptoms associated with gaming disorder include:


  • neglecting personal hygiene
  • skipping meals
  • foregoes social activities in favor of gaming
  • losing sleep due to late-night gaming sessions
  • lying about how much time they spend gaming
  • experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they can’t game
  • continuing to game despite negative consequences
  • feeling irritable when they can’t game.


Not everyone who experiences these things has gaming disorder, but it’s worth noting that these are some of the red flags that professionals look for when trying to identify this condition.


The Controversy Surrounding Gaming Disorder


Because it is such a new phenomenon, there is a lot of controversy surrounding gaming disorder. Some experts argue that it’s not a real condition, but rather a symptom of underlying mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. Others argue that it’s a legitimate condition that deserves more recognition and research.


At this point, the World Health Organization (WHO) is the only major organization to recognize gaming disorder as a real and diagnosable condition. In its International Classification of Diseases (ICD), the WHO defines gaming disorder as “a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior” that becomes so extensive that it “takes precedence over other life interests.”


However, it’s important to note that the ICD is not used in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is the most widely used classification system for mental disorders in the United States. This means that, technically speaking, gaming disorder is not considered a diagnosable condition in the United States at present.


History of Gaming Disorder


The 1980s saw the rise of home videogame systems thanks to the Nintendo Entertainment System. No longer did kids have to go to the arcade and pour quarters into a videogame or pinball machine. Now, kids could sit in their bedrooms and play all day long.


By the 1990s, gaming and technology were advancing at a rapid rate and at the turn of the century, kids had some of the most life-like games at their fingertips. The rapid advancement of technology has led to a generation of kids growing up with videogames that their parents were not exposed to.


Technological advancements have led to a lot of amazing improvements in gaming including the launch of esports tournaments. Today, individuals can make a living playing videogames and some elite gamers like Johan Sundstein and Jesse Vainikka earn millions of dollars in winnings.


However, not everyone can become a professional gamer and some individuals develop serious addictions to videogames. Gaming can be a positive experience for kids and teach them plenty of life skills. It can also become a problem that creates a dependence on gaming and prevents them from putting down the controller and leaving home.


Identify Gaming Disorder


It may be difficult to spot the signs of videogame addiction. You may think your teenager is simply being a teenager, but there are some clear indications that a videogame reliance has been developed. There is nothing wrong with playing videogames, but a compulsion to continually play games and push everything else to the side is a problem. Individuals can develop a gaming disorder from playing games online or on a home gaming system that is not connected to the Internet.


Experts officially label individuals with a gaming disorder as anyone who has “a persistent gaming behavior”. This is a bit vague as some teenagers could delve deep into a videogame one week and not play it the next.


Gaming disorder is specifically defined in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as a pattern of digital or video gaming behavior characterized by increased compulsion and priority toward gaming than to other activities. The ICD also notes that in order for gaming disorder to be present the behavior pattern must continue in the face of negative consequences.


It must also be of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning. It is unlikely a gaming disorder diagnosis would be given had the behavior not normally have been evident for at least one year.


Spot Gaming Addiction


Individuals with a gaming addiction may display one or more of the following signs:


  • Persons play for long stretches, perhaps many hours at a time
  • They speak about the game constantly even with people that are unfamiliar with it
  • When asked to stop playing the game, they become angry and possibly aggressive
  • Individuals lie about the amount of time they play the game
  • They may pretend they are not or haven’t recently played the game.
  • Due to the long stretches of playing the game, players do not eat, sleep, and their usual routines are disrupted
  • Players get a feeling of euphoria from playing videogame
  • Gamers go through withdrawal symptoms when they do not play
  • Individuals may get headaches, pain in the neck, hands, arms, and eyes from excessive videogame playing


What makes video games addictive?


The four key elements that makes gaming addictive:


  1. Temporary Escape
  2. Social Interaction
  3. Challenge and a Sense of Purpose
  4. Constant Measurable Rewards and Progress


Is my child addicted to gaming?


If your child exhibits any of the above signs of videogame addiction, then there is a good chance they are addicted to gaming. It is believed that only four-percent of people around the world have a gaming disorder. It is a small percentage, but that could simply be due to individuals not being diagnosed. Some parents may believe their child is just playing a videogame and do not realize just how dependent they are on gaming.


One reason it can be difficult to tell if a child is addicted to gaming is due to the screen culture that has developed since 2007 when the first iPhone was released. A generation of children have grown up with smartphones being a part of mainstream culture. With the amount of time individuals spend on their smartphones, it can be difficult to tell just how much a person plays videogames.


As smartphone and Internet use rises, and more engaging/interactive videogames are developed, it is likely more children will become addicted to gaming. The days of kids needing an expensive system and television to play a videogame are over. All children need today is an Internet connection and hundreds of online games are available to play.


How is Gaming Disorder Diagnosed?


Specialists look at an individual’s behavior patterns to determine whether or not they have a gaming disorder. Videogames are a gender-neutral activity, so males and females can experience an addiction to gaming.


Experts contend there should be a clear change in the behavior of an individuals over a 12-month period. If an individual experiences a notable disruption in school/education, work/employment, or family and friend relationships, then they can be classified as having a gaming disorder11.Q. Wang, H. Ren, J. Long, Y. Liu and T. Liu, Research progress and debates on gaming disorder – PMC, PubMed Central (PMC).; Retrieved October 10, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6678059/.


Treatment for Gaming Addiction


A growing number of world-class treatment facilities now offer programs allowing individuals to combat their videogame addictions. Depending on the rehab facility, the treatment can vary. Some rehab centers may employ a 12-step program for video game addiction while others may offer group counseling and self-help groups.


The World Health Organization recognizes gaming disorders as a mental health issue. Not all parties see gaming disorders as a major problem, but as gaming grows in popularity more people understand it creates a dependency22.M. Moing, Psychiatry Online, The American Journal of Psychiatry.; Retrieved October 10, 2022, from https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.ajp.2014.14060723.  In some cases a period of digital detox helps the situation.


How to prevent gaming addiction


There is nothing wrong with kids playing videogames from time to time. Setting some rules and guidelines can prevent your child from developing a gaming disorder although the following official guidelines from the WHO may have been written by someone without teenagers…


“Parents should keep set time limits for gaming and not waver from their rules. Smartphones and other devices should be banned from bedrooms and not allowed at least two hours prior to bedtime. It is a good idea to keep all gaming devices outside of a child’s room, so they cannot retreat to their bedrooms to play whenever they please. Parents should encourage activities such as exercise and playing outside.


Children should be offered an alternative to sitting inside and gaming all day. Finally, kids should only play games that are rated appropriate for their age group. Games can be violent and research is investigating whether or not this can lead to further addiction and behavior disorder.”


Previous: Most Addicting Games

Next: How to Deal with Video Game Addiction

  • 1
    1.Q. Wang, H. Ren, J. Long, Y. Liu and T. Liu, Research progress and debates on gaming disorder – PMC, PubMed Central (PMC).; Retrieved October 10, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6678059/
  • 2
    2.M. Moing, Psychiatry Online, The American Journal of Psychiatry.; Retrieved October 10, 2022, from https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.ajp.2014.14060723
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