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Video game addiction now a globally recognized illness

Visitors try Oculus VR headsets at the MSI Gaming booth during the 2015 Tokyo Game Show at Makuhari Messe Convention Center in Chiba prefecture, east of Tokyo. EPA/CHRISTOPHER JUE

Visitors try Oculus VR headsets at the MSI Gaming booth during the 2015 Tokyo Game Show at Makuhari Messe Convention Center in Chiba prefecture, east of Tokyo. EPA/CHRISTOPHER JUE

Published Feb 23, 2022

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Arcadia Kim devoted her career to video games, until one hit her in the face. The incident happened several years ago when Kim, a former studio operating chief at Electronic Arts Inc., was trying to peel away her then 10-year-old son from a game of Minecraft. He threw the iPad at her in frustration.

Kim, 48, said the experience inspired her to start a business in 2019 advising parents on forming healthy relationships between their kids and their screens. The work took on greater urgency this year when the World Health Organization began formally recognizing video game addiction as an illness for the first time.

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Among gamers and parents and even within the medical community, there's disagreement about whether gaming addiction is real. Either way, the WHO's designation could provide a boon to Kim and other businesses like hers. Dozens of consultants operate in the US alone, as well as an assortment of apps, camps, self-help books and treatment centres.

A diagnosis of addiction is based on a series of symptoms, according to the WHO. They include a lack of control over the impulse to play video games, a tendency to prioritize it at the expense of other interests or obligations and continued or escalated involvement despite experiencing negative consequences.

Studies offer varying conclusions, in part due to disagreements over how to define addiction, but they typically show the illness in 2% to 3% of people who play games. A similar condition called gaming disorder is more prevalent in the population than compulsive gambling but less than compulsive shopping, estimated Matthew Stevens of the University of Adelaide in Australia.

Achieving recognition was a years-long process. WHO member states voted in 2018 to add it to the organization's disease classification list, which helps standardize health reporting and tracking worldwide. The change didn't go into effect until last month, a lag designed to give the health care industry time to prepare.

Yet, the debate rages on among behavioural scientists. At the American Psychological Association, some members are lobbying the group to follow the WHO and acknowledge gaming addiction. The effort is facing resistance.

The last time the association classified a new addiction was in 2013, when it added gambling, said Paul Appelbaum, chair of the APA committee in charge of making such designations. Changes come slowly and "really need to be backed up by data if they're going to be widely accepted," he said.

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Bloomberg

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