World Health Organization declares gaming addiction a health disorder

Researcher agrees with the decision while video game industry fights against the label

HANDCUFFED BY GAMING? The WHO has declared video game addiction and mental health disorder. Many students at Sevier Middle agree that it is a major problem among teens.

ShayLeigh Honaker

HANDCUFFED BY GAMING? The WHO has declared video game addiction and mental health disorder. Many students at Sevier Middle agree that it is a major problem among teens.

Chloe McConnell, Investigations Editor

Video games have been slowly taking over the world. They are played frequently and are becoming a problem. About 67% of Americans, or 211 million people, play video games on at least one type of device, with more than half of them playing on multiple devices.

The World Health Organization, or WHO, recently classified video game addiction as a mental health disorder. This means that video games are now an official addiction. Just like any other addiction, video games can have negative health effects.

Meredith Ginley is an assistant professor at East Tennessee State University. She is a licensed clinical psychologist. Her job involves seeing and treating patients who have mental health disorders. She is also a researcher working to generate new knowledge about things scientists don’t yet fully understand about addictive behaviors.

“The WHO organized a series of expert meetings to better understand gaming,” Ginley said. “When these experts met, they were really trying to understand the clinical and public health impact of gaming and they found that, based on the additional information that had been discovered since 2013, excessive game play was causing harm.”

Rachael Wagner, an 8th grade Language Arts teacher, has seen first hand how gaming can affect students.

“Many times I have questioned sleepy students or students who have frequently failed to complete assignments and they’re replies have been that they stayed up all night playing video games,” she said.

Kids and adults alike play video games instead of completing assignments, attending birthday parties, and even going to work. Video games have become a lot more than just a hobby to some people. They are consumed with these games and their uncontrollable urge to play them.

According to the World Health Organization’s website, “studies suggest that gaming disorder affects only a small proportion of people who engage in digital- or video-gaming activities”.

If someone is really concerned about their video game play I would encourage them to reach out to a therapist that uses cognitive behavioral therapy approaches.”

— Meredith Ginley

Video game addiction is not a problem for everyone. Most people can play video games without becoming addicted, but some might develop a problem. Some signs that somebody is addicted to video games include missing important events, changes in physical or psychological health, and changes in the ability to function socially.

“Usually what we see when someone is having problems with video games is that they notice playing video games gets in the way of things they think are important,” Ginley said. “So, for example, they feel pulled to keep playing games even when they know they need to do something really important, like study for their midterm exam.”

However, sometimes peoples’ priorities are not school or work, so they just choose to play video games.

“The child actually isn’t too worried about how much they are playing, because they would much rather play than study, for example,” Ginley said.

Playing video games frequently doesn’t mean someone is addicted. They might just have different priorities.

“We think that certain areas of the brain become less sensitive to reward and then, in turn, an individual needs to keep seeking more and more stimulation in order for their brain to even ‘notice’ a reward that someone who wasn’t addicted may have been really, really excited about,” Ginley said.

Mental health disorders alter the brain and cause it to function in a way that is harmful. When the brains process is altered, it can never go back to exactly the way that it was before.

“Addiction can affect many areas of a person’s life,” Ginley said. “In general, the things patients report as most concerning, and the things that we actually call symptoms of addictive behaviors, are things like loss of relationships, not doing things that are important to you in order to engage in the addiction, needing more and more of a substance, or game, in order to feel the effects you used to, and feeling sick.”

Feeling anxious, being unable to sleep, not feeling like themselves when they can’t play video games are all signs that someone could be addicted to video games.

According to the website “Complex”, “a gaming lobbying group called the ‘Video Games Coalition’ went on record stating that the products are ‘enjoyed safely and sensibly by more than 2 billion people worldwide’ and have ‘educational, therapeutic, and recreational value’ when used properly. They’ve also urged WHO to reevaluate their decision.”

Not everyone agrees with the decision to officialize video game addiction; some video game producers think this conclusion is outrageous.

“I have no problem with this decision as the spirit of it was to make sure people with gaming disorder could get help, since therapists will now be able to explicitly bill for gaming disorder, and to further increase research efforts in this area,” Ginley said. “However, I do still think it is important to continue to do as much research as we can on gaming disorder. ”

Chloe McConnell
POSSIBLY ADDICTED? Among Sevier Students, 86% agree that video game addiction is a real problem, while 77% believe they know at least one person who is addicted to video games.

Just because video game addiction is officially a mental health disorder does not mean scientists know everything about it and shouldn’t do more to understand it.

“The research seems to suggest that massive multiplayer online role playing games and other types of games where a person really engrosses themselves into an alternative world seem to be the most addictive,” Ginley said. “What we think is most addictive about these games is that they do seem to alter the reward pathway and then there is also the variable ratio reinforcement of games where you can work hard for awhile with no payoff and then suddenly you have a big win or success and then this causes to want to keep working for subsequent successes.”

Research has shown that younger people are more likely to become addicted to video games.

“We think this is at least partially because the games are so hard that as you get older and your reaction time slows down, you get a lot worse at games,”Ginley said. “And you are a lot less likely to want to spend lots and lots of time playing something you are bad at.”

Teenagers brains are still developing and are therefore more susceptible to addiction. Developing brains can be affected more easily because their brains are not yet hardwired to operate a certain way.

“If someone is really concerned about their video game play I would encourage them to reach out to a therapist that uses cognitive behavioral therapy approaches,” Ginley said. “We think that therapy model may be the best for treating gaming disorder, as it teaches people skills to both understand why they may want to keep gaming and what they can do as alternative activities instead of gaming.”

If someone is worried about cost or can’t find a therapist there is a clinic at ETSU that can help. There are many ways to get help. People with an addiction have many options. If someone needs it, there is help out there.

“I just always like to point out that most people who play video games are not going to develop a gaming addiction,” Ginley said “We think that pretty much everyone is playing video games in some form or another, and many are playing in totally healthy ways, such as with their friends and in their free time when it doesn’t interfere with any other obligations. When we talk about gaming addiction it’s only a very small portion of individuals who will ever experience that level of harm from gaming.”