Lisa Pont has heard plenty of skepticism about video game addiction and whether it’s truly a medical condition that should be classified as a disease, as the World Health Organization plans to officially do in a couple of months.
“Some people think it trivializes other diseases. People think, ‘Oh my God, how can you get addicted to gaming? Just put (the controller) down,’ or like, ‘Please, then anything can be a disease,'” says Pont, a social worker at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.
The WHO has said it will include “gaming disorder” in a June update to its International Classification of Diseases (ICD), defining it as a pattern of behaviour “characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”
A diagnosis would recognize “significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months.”
A CAMH study released in 2016 estimated 13 per cent of Ontario students — or almost 123,000 kids — have experienced symptoms of a “video gaming problem,” which was up from nine per cent in 2007. About one in five boys reported having “problematic symptoms” linked to their video gaming.
The WHO has been studying the issue since 2014, while the American Psychiatric Association has flagged “internet gaming disorder” for further study and consideration in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) since 2013, but has not yet moved forward with it. They are two of the main groups the medical community in Canada looks to for guidance on diagnosing and treating patients.
Prof. Jeffrey Derevensky, director of the International Centre for Youth Gambling at McGill University, consulted with the WHO in preparing the upcoming ICD-11 release and says video game addiction is “clearly a growing problem.”
“It may not have the same prevalence as some other disorders but … I get a call at least once every two weeks from a parent who says, ‘I can’t get him off his computer,’ or ‘I can’t get him off his cellphone because all he wants to do is play these games,'” Derevensky says.
“There’ve been a number of instances where individuals have actually committed suicide because they weren’t able to have access to their computer for gaming.”