How Much is Too Much? Unpacking Gaming Disorder.
What is Gaming Disorder?
According to the World Health Organization, the official criteria that needs to be met for a diagnosis of Gaming Disorder are:
Impaired control over gaming (e.g. onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination, and context)
Increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities
Continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.
All of these symptoms must be present and this behavior pattern must be of sufficient severity to negatively impact personal, family, social, educational and/or other important areas of functioning. This behavior must be present for at least 12 months; however, the pattern of gaming behavior may be continuous or episodic and recurrent.
There is an important distinction to be made between disordered gaming and problematic play. To qualify as clinically addicted, participants must meet the criteria as outlined above whereas the term problematic gaming is applied to players who meet some criteria, but not enough to reach the clinical threshold.
Active debates about Gaming Disorder
The WHO's classification and definition is actively debated within academic and medical communities (see here, here, and here). One reason that the WHO’s classification has been debated is due to their vague diagnostic criteria of gaming disorder. If you replace the word “games” with another enjoyable activity that you often participate in - for example, dancing - you will likely find that you also meet the criteria for being “addicted” to that activity.
Much of this concern is driven from a lack of high-quality research in the field. A systematic review published in 2020 concluded that of the almost 200 studies evaluating the links between gaming disorder and negative psychological outcomes (depression and anxiety), none were classified as reliable. That is, none of the studies met basic methodological standards from which to draw robust conclusions.
Many researchers also disagree with the WHO’s decision to move forward with a formal classification of Gaming Disorder because there is no evidence (as of yet) to indicate that games themselves are the source of the problem.That is no unique characteristics of video games have been identified as the source of physical, social, and psychological challenges for players.
In fact, many researchers believe that the problematic use of games is more likely a coping mechanism for something else entirely, such as underlying depression, anxiety, or stress. This is important, as these distinctions would impact professional intervention approaches.
Despite these concerns, if you, or someone you know, is struggling due to their video game play, professional intervention should be considered.
What do you do if you think you, or someone you know, is exhibiting signs of gaming disorder?
If you, or someone you know is exhibiting the signs of gaming disorder, you should seek professional help. While various help centers now exist for people with gaming problems, the first step would be to reach out to a qualified professional. There is significant concern that removing the games as the assumed source of the problem, rather than considering their role as a coping strategy, could ignite other challenges. As such, many clinicians recommend the first step is to reach out to a licensed psychologist who is culturally competent in and around games.
After an initial assessment, a professional should be able to determine whether or not the use of games maladaptively is due to another, primary challenge that should be the focus of intervention (depression, anxiety, stress, for example). There are resources available online to help locate a culturally competent therapists.
What if you, or someone you know, is feeling out of control with their game play but not necessarily exhibiting signs of gaming disorder?
If you, or someone you know, is feeling out of control with their game play, there are some strategies that can help to balance video game use, such as imposing spending limits or tightening parental controls. See our article, “5 Tips to Prevent Problematic Gaming Patterns Forming” for a list of suggested methods.
Be alert to the signs of gaming disorder so that you can detect a problem early
Keep an eye out for underlying issues like depression or anxiety
Dont’ be afraid of seeking professional help