For the first time ever, gaming addiction will be classified as a mental health condition. This follows the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) decision to include “gaming disorder” in its 11th edition of International Classification of Disease (ICD). The ICD is a guide used by “doctors and researchers to track and diagnose disease” and was last updated in 1992, BBC.

WHO characterises gaming disorder as “impaired control over gaming,” “increased priority given to gaming” and the continuation of gaming despite negative consequences. WHO states that before gaming disorder is diagnosed, severe behavioural patterns must be present for 12 months. These behavioural patterns are classified as severe if gaming interferes with “personal, family, social, education, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.”

Whilst speaking to the BBC, addiction specialist Dr. Richard Graham said that recognising gaming disorder is significant because it allows for more specialised services and shows that the condition is “something to take seriously.” BBC explains that Graham determines gaming addiction through assessing whether it interferes with basic functioning such as “sleeping, eating, socialising and education.” While Graham sees 50 new cases of digital addiction per year, he still sympathises with those who think that the condition should not be classified as a mental health disorder. He adds that it “could lead to confused parents whose children are just enthusiastic gamers.”

The 2018 chairperson of the TUKS Anime and Gaming society, Taahir Vawda, acknowledges that one can be addicted to gaming. Vawda discusses the detriments of gaming saying that “if you don’t manage your time well, you can end up losing yourself in a game. Because of the instant gratification of completing certain objectives, it creates an illusion of genuine progress and accomplishment, especially prevalent in online PVP games where matches are short. The result is that hours can often pass by without you noticing.” Vawda notes that there are, however, many benefits to gaming. He says that depending on the game, gaming may help “improve coordination, attention span, concentration, problem-solving and learning skills, making decisions under pressure and noticing patterns.” Contrary to the stereotype that gamers are ‘anti-social’, Vawda says that online or multiplayer games are “a nice way to bond with friends” and can “help improve your social skills.” Fabio ‘Artdepartment’ Viveiros, an amateur Dota 2 player and owner of Evolution Esports, agrees with this. Viveiros says that for him multiplayer games “improve teamwork” and social skills as this is required “to do well and win.”

While Viveiros admits that he was “addicted to gaming in grade 11 and 12” which resulted in his marks dropping and being less sociable with friends; he says that listing a gaming disorder as a mental health condition is “very extreme” and that he does not “think it should ever be classified as a disorder.” Viveiros believes that long hours of gaming are not detrimental to one’s health, adding that him and his Dota team “have team practice from Sunday to Thursday from 7:00 PM to 10:30 PM and solo practice for 1-3 hours a day.” Viveiros concludes by saying that “anyone addicted to anything should seek some sort of help” and that “people should understand that everything in life is great in moderation.”

While WHO acknowledge that gaming disorder only affects a small proportion of gamers, they advise that gamers should be aware of the “amount of time they spend on gaming activities” especially when their daily activities, health and social functioning are compromised.

While it appears that South Africa has no laws to restrict gaming habits, some countries have acted. In South Korea there is a law which bans “children under 16 from online games between midnight and 6:00” says BBC. While in China there is a limit to how many hours children can play popular games and in Japan gamers are notified if they exceed a “certain amount of time each month playing games,” explains BBC.

Illustration: Sally Hartzenberg

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