For most of us, a round or three of Fortnite can serve as a playful escapism. But for a small number of people, the World Health Organisation is warning gaming is developing into an unhealthy addiction.
The disorder, a “genuine” and “harmful” mental health condition, can also contribute to other problems such as lack of physical activity, an unhealthy diet, sleep deprivation and aggressive behaviour.
“What we are looking at is impulsive behaviour turning into compulsive behaviour,” Professor Michael Farrell, WHO panellist and Director of the National Drug and Alcohol Centre at the University of NSW, told ABC radio.
The WHO manual, ICD-11, defines the disorder as a pattern of persistent or recurring gaming, with symptoms similar to those of other addictive or compulsive disorders.
“People are spending increasing and very long and intense periods of time playing. They are not undertaking key responsibilities in life and are withdrawing from things,” Farrell explained.
“Sometimes associated with that can be the development of mood, anxiety or anger-related disorders.”
Conversely, researchers have shown gaming can work to stimulate neurogenesis — the growth of new neurons — and connectivity in certain regions of the brain. Others have found video games can improve mobility after a stroke.
“These behavioural disorders are becoming increasingly well understood,” Farrell said.
The disorder is already listed in version five of the American Diagnostic and Statistics Manual as one which requires further research.
“The significance of this (WHO addition) is that these types of coding in many countries influence what treatment can be paid for,” Farrell said.
He pointed to the “pretty wonky” treatments used in countries such as China and Korea where the scale of online gaming is causing serious public health concerns.
“There is a need to see that we can develop evidence-based approaches and not lockup-type interventions.”