The World Health Organization has included “gaming disorder” on its list of mental health conditions for the latest draft of its 11th International Classification of Diseases.

It is filed under “disorders due to addictive behaviours,” and is characterized by “increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities” and continuing to play despite negative consequences.

“Specifically, in gaming addictions, it’s the addiction to the fantasy and the escape provided by the video game,” says Christel Lankford, a behavioural health consultant and licensed clinical social worker at Mosaic Life Care. “You can escape from your real life and immerse yourself in this other world and be another person.”

Video games have been around for about 40 years and have slowly climbed to one of the most profitable entertainment industries in the world. According to a 2016 article published on the Nasdaq, video games are pulling in more profit than both the music and movie industries.

The industry certainly has seen its fair share of controversy over four decades, especially in its teenage years, when a number of lawsuits were filed due to the violent nature of some games like “Mortal Kombat.”

Now, “E-Sports,” competitive gaming circuits that sell out arenas across the world, have pushed gaming beyond its humble, arcade roots.

Indeed, Lankford believes that online multiplayer games tend to be among the most addictive due to the interactions people can have with other players.

“People that are really addicted to video games, they do that to the detriment of hygiene, eating properly, getting proper exercise, socializing with people outside the gaming world. It’s just a total immersion into that fantasy life.”

Kurtis Ballinger, co-owner of Club Geek, a video-game themed bar, says that the immersive aspect of some games is what makes them so appealing, and at times, beneficial.

“That’s also the same reason you go to the movies or watch a show. You sort of escape the real world for a little bit,” Ballinger says. “Some people have a very taxing life … If it’s a way to escape, then that can be good. If used properly, it’s a good way to relieve stress and escape life.”

And that seems to be the key: proper usage. Lankford says that things like social media and cell phones along with video games have changed how we interact with each other, and when it comes to avoiding those addictive behaviours, moderation is important.

“As with anything, you have to do it in moderation. If you’re spending 8, 9, 10 or 12 hours a day online playing video games and doing nothing else, then it’s a problem.”

Especially when it comes to children, Lankford encourages other activities to stimulate their brains. Interaction with other kids, colouring and playing outside can be integral to a child’s development.

Ballinger agrees, saying that he does his best to regulate how often his daughter plays games as well as what types of games she plays while making sure there’s time to do other activities. He also tries to play those video games with his daughter, claiming that some of them have helped her reading ability due to their heavy reliance on text-based storytelling.

“Imagination is what (kids) thrive on,” Ballinger says.

But in the end, he agrees that limits need to be set.

“You’ve got to set time, and it works its way into even kids nowadays,” Ballinger says. “I think there are just boundaries that need to be set. It’s harder when you’re an adult because you don’t have a parent over your shoulder saying, ‘Hey, you can’t do that,’ or ‘Hey, let’s go do this,’ so you’ve got to take a little more responsibility.”

But both Lankford and Ballinger agree that despite some of the negative connotations associated with the medium, games do have their benefits. On a limited basis, it’s fine, but you can get into trouble playing for longer periods of time, Lankford says.

“If you give gaming or gamers such a bad rap, like, ‘Hey, don’t sit there and play forever,’ then you don’t see the good side of it,” Ballinger says. “How you use it and how you regulate it — just like any technology — it can be good or bad.”

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