The World Health Organization has decided to create a new classification for a behavioral condition it calls "gaming disorder." This is the first update to the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, or ICD-11, since 1992.
Whether directing a video game character to kill an opposing player in "Fortnite" or stealing a car in "Grand Theft Auto V," the WHO warns some gamers might be susceptible to the addictive disorder, which has been placed in the same category as drug abuse.
IU Professor Andrew Weaver, who studies media psychology, video game violence and cognitive science, said he agrees with the classification. Research clearly shows video games have some addictive qualities and do have an effect on the brain, he said.
"Games are only going to get better at triggering these reward centers and getting people to play one more turn, to play one more game," Weaver said.
However, Weaver was quick to point out the decision to put gaming disorder in the same category as opioid or gambling addiction is misleading.
When someone plays a video game, generally speaking, the only thing they might lose is time they could have spent doing something else, Weaver said.
Video games have positive and negative qualities and the classification could cause people to overreact in a moral panic against games or in defense of video games, but it really shouldn't cause either, Weaver said.
"I don't think there's much value right now in trying to classify people as having a disorder," Weaver said. "I don't think that's something that parents should get paranoid about."
A group of almost 30 other scholars and researchers submitted a letter to the WHO in which they claimed the new designation should be removed.
The group wrote the gaming disorder designation should be eliminated to "avoid a waste of public health resources" and to prevent harm to healthy video gamers around the world.
"Of particular concern are moral panics around the harm of video gaming," the researchers wrote. "They might result in premature application of diagnosis in the medical community and the treatment of abundant false-positive cases, especially for children and adolescents."
Right now, there is not a lot of data about the new classification or what it might mean, but current research shows it may not affect many people.
More research is still needed, Weaver said, and the classification needs to be investigated further with an emphasis on the context around it and how the disorder might affect people.
"It's not as if games are rotting these kids' brains," Weaver said. "That doesn't mean that games don't possess some addictive qualities."
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