Roger recently posted on the topic of WHO declaring Gaming Addiction as a recognised disorder. It’s an interesting topic and still one subject of much debate. As you might expect, the ESA is up in arms about it — but even within the profession, it is by no means a decided matter. The DSM-5 notes it as an area worthy of further investigation, but without sufficient evidence to categorically state it is a condition in and of itself as opposed to a further symptom of other underlying issues.
Although it is possibly worthy of note that the DSM-5 was published in 2013, and there have been additional years of study since.
Roger’s post already talks through some of the potential issues with this becoming a recognised disorder and I noted some others in my reply comment but the topic has stuck with me in the days since. And in particular that my initial response possibly lacked a certain degree of care and empathy. It was by and large reflective of a younger-Nait’s way of thinking, a less-informed-Nait’s way of thinking.
I can claim no particular expertise on the topic from a professional standpoint. I have no way of knowing whether my own experience is typical or atypical. Nor can I absolutely claim it would have met the diagnostic criteria set out by the WHO.
But as implied by that paragraph — I have been through a time in my life where I suspect I would have met the criteria.
The False Alarm
Before getting to that — there was another time in my life when I was not addicted, but nonetheless my Mother was worried enough to send me along to a psychotherapist for a chat over it. Luckily I had a good one who listened and understood, so it was a positive overall experience regardless. But it could have been worse and I share the worry Roger expressed of parents equating a lot of gaming with problem gaming.
Essentially, I’m very far along the ‘Introvert’ end of the Introvert / Extrovert scale. I had friends at school — and Mum knew this, as I both had them visit and I visited them on fairly regular basis — but I still needed a lot of me time to recharge after the average day of school or in preparation for such an event.
Gaming was not only a hobby, but it was my vehicle for gaining that necessary social charge. Plus of course, the fact I loved it in and of itself too. It was fun.
So I did it every available moment — which I suppose is where Mum’s concern came in, despite the other healthy indicators. Also of note here, when I say ‘available moment’ that is not meaning that I put aside school homework / projects. I did my work, I studied, I did pretty well — if I may say so myself.
I maintained social contacts (offline) as noted and so overall was very much not letting gaming run my life. Just my free time. (Incidentally, Asheron’s Call was a part of it at this point in my life too!)
Probably the Real Deal
Later on though, after I’d left home something did change.
I was now at University, studying Computer Science. First year was pretty good — I remember getting an A+ in CompSci 101 and being pretty pleased with myself. Math 108 I think I only got a B+, but even that I was OK with given my general dislike for Math. Heck I even joined the student council that year.
Second year, I started down the path of falling off the rails.
I started prioritising raiding in WoW (on a US schedule, whilst living in NZ) over attending classes. I prioritised playing over getting out with the friends I’d made the year before.
Projects were given a backseat, any work I deemed as optional (i.e., I thought I could reach the mandatory class percentages without it) were not done.
In short, I did the bare minimum to not fail. And I did that only grudgingly. When I did attend lectures, or tutorial classes I was always giving thought to being back at home and playing more WoW.
Worse still, at the time I was lying to my family about my attendance and sometimes going to lengths to achieve the deception such as leaving the house by car in the morning only to return when I knew the house would be empty again.
This carried on for the better part of a year — and it is only the fact it was less than 12 months in duration that make me doubt it would have met the current WHO criteria. The criteria state a duration of 12 or more months unless driving especially severe consequences.
I was fortunate. Very fortunate. While I tanked my GPA to be sure, I maintained a pass grade in all classes (barely). On the home front it certainly caused tensions with my now-Wife, then-Partner. As even after Uni hours, I still wanted to do very little else but play WoW.
Here’s where the diagnosis might be key…
…And partly why I cannot say for sure whether my experience was typical or not.
As bad as my behaviour was — I always knew that for me it was a choice. It was something I was doing to myself and to others. It was a selfish and terrible choice, but it was one nonetheless.
In my case at least, I don’t feel that I was under the thrall of some disease and therefore had no agency (or blame) in the matter.
I don’t mean to say it was an easy set of choices to start reversing — because it wasn’t. Not by a long shot. I’d put it on par as being at least as difficult as establishing a new set of habits around eating or exercise for someone not used to maintaining these disciplines.
I was helped too, in a way, by there coming a tipping point wherein the obvious upset I was causing my partner — someone I still loved very much through the gaming haze — was simply not worth the in-the-moment transient joy of playing the game.
In fact, thinking on it further… I’m unsure I would have possessed the strength of will and necessary discipline to change my behaviour otherwise.
And with that realisation, I wonder if I otherwise would have even sought to change my habits. Or what the trigger might have been. Or whether I would then have required professional help.
Another way I have been lucky…
…Is that unlike substance addictions or the other behavioural addiction currently recognised (gambling), it hasn’t been necessary in my case to cut gaming entirely from my life.
I have no way of knowing whether this is going to be the typical experience or not.
But once I set the proper checks and balances back into place, and even more importantly — made sure I clearly understood my priorities?
Gaming has been able to make a full return as my means of recharging my social batteries. I can still enjoy it as a hobby without it taking over. I’ve even been able to return to raiding in WoW without letting the game run rampant over my life. (Although of course part of this was switching to an Oceanic timezone, too!)
I guess in closing just a final word to a couple of different groups…
…To the parents of kids who game: Long hours alone does not a problem make. Not if they’re still meeting their other school commitments and getting the sleep and exercise they need to remain healthy. It’s OK for kids to be introverted and need time alone. If they need this — let them have it. At the end of the day, the key questions are: Are they happy? Are they healthy? If yes — then try not to worry.
…To anyone who thinks they might have a problem: I think you will know. That you wonder it is quite likely indicator enough. If you are sacrificing your health to play more, if you are sacrificing your offline relationships to play more — it’s time to really buckle down and make a change. And just like a personal trainer or nutritionist can help you stay motivated and sticking to your health goals — seeking help from a professional might just be the best thing to keep you on track with the necessary changes here.
This need not come at cost, either. If you can’t afford professional help — there are any number of avenues to check down. Employed? Check in with your EAP (Employee Assistance Program). If you’re at school, approach the school counselor. In the US, check out this link. In New Zealand? This one.
There will almost certainly be a page similar to these for your own country if you live elsewhere. Just look for it now while its top of mind.