Video games and “screen time” have been areas of controversy in society today as technology becomes more and more entwined in our everyday lives. Some families opt for a zero-tolerance policy on screens until children reach a certain age and yet other families opt for an approach that allows kids to determine their own limits for screen time. Determining how technology affects human psychology and community is critical.
Though there has been a raging debate about whether or not violent video games are responsible for violence in our communities, there is also a much quieter debate going on in the world of psychology about a new disorder called Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD).
What is Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD)?
Gaming Disorder is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a pattern of gaming behavior (‘digital-gaming’ or ‘video-gaming’) characterized by the following:
- Impaired control over gaming.
- Increasing priority given to gaming over other activities such that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities.
- Continuation or escalation of gaming despite negative consequences.
- A level of severity significant enough to cause impairment in personal, family, social, educational, or occupational functioning.
- Symptoms must last at least 12 months.
Though the World Health Organization (WHO) has defined the disorder, the American Psychiatric Association has yet to officially include it in the fifth edition of their comprehensive book of psychiatric illnesses, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders, often called the DSM. However, the American Psychiatric Association includes a section in the DSM on disorders or illnesses that need further research, and they included IGD there—suggesting that we need more research before we can officially call this a disorder.
What is the current theory behind IGD?
Many of the scientific studies about IGD focus on males and mostly took place in China, so their applicability more broadly is still up for scientific study. The current theories on whether IGD is a new mental health disorder center around viewing gaming disorder as an addiction. In addiction, specific pathways in the brain are highly stimulated by a drug, releasing a chemical “reward” in the brain that prompts the person to keep seeking out that drug. These pathways are different in different people, so the same drug can affect two people very differently. The idea behind IGD is the same; Gaming activates pathways in the brain that cause feelings of pleasure and a chemical “reward” in some people. Much like addiction, impulsivity and disinhibition are associated with IGD as well, another piece of evidence that suggests IGD falls under the addiction category.
Does this mean we should stop playing video games?
Not necessarily! Just as there is a difference between someone who occasionally drinks a glass of wine and an alcoholic, there is a difference between someone who plays video games and someone who is “addicted” to it. For someone to have IGD, they need to meet the many criteria described by the WHO above. They must be experiencing negative consequences, impairment in functioning, impaired control over their ability to game, and these symptoms must last 12 months. If you are worried that you or someone you know is addicted to gaming, talk to a mental health professional!