Official! Gaming addiction is mental illness

Wired: Symptoms of gaming addiction can include irregular mealtimes or forgetting to eat at all.

Is the World Health Organisation right? It has made “gaming disorder” an official mental illness. While fun for some, excessive gaming can tear lives apart — and the solution is unclear.

“Soon, the games started to take over.” Those are the words of Jack Perry, who had his teenage years blighted by a very modern addiction: video games.

In the beginning he was just like thousands of other teenagers — receiving his first Xbox as a child, his favourite games were Call of Duty and FIFA.

But what started out as harmless fun turned into something all-consuming as he became “completely hooked” on his console.

He would play every day in sessions up to 20 hours long, sometimes skipping school to make time. He skipped meals too, losing weight and becoming “lifeless and depressed”. A change only came once Jack’s father discovered his son had stolen his credit card to buy more games. After that, Jack found help through therapy.

There have even been deaths linked to extreme gaming sessions. In 2015, two men in Taiwan died within weeks of each other — both having spent multiple days gaming in internet cafes. And last year an American man died after a 24-hour gaming binge.

Such extreme incidents are incredibly rare, and scientists are uncertain as to how widespread the issue is. One study estimated that 8.5% of American children show signs of video game addiction, but others think the real number is much lower.

There is also debate surrounding how gaming addiction should be understood as a health issue.

Yesterday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) classified “gaming disorder” as a mental illness in its own right.

However, others think the picture is more complex. For example, Professor Chris Ferguson argues that gaming addiction is actually a symptom of other “underlying mental health problems” like depression and ADHD — video games are “often used as a coping mechanism”.

But while scientists continue to debate, it is clear from the personal testimonies of people like Jack that video game addiction has the power to destroy lives.

How should this issue be tackled?

Game over

The games are the problem, some argue. This kind of addiction is sustained by multiplayer online games — like Fortnite — that are available around the clock. Like any other addictive substance, we should limit access to the supply. For example, South Korean law prevents under-16s playing online games after midnight. Gaming companies themselves also have a responsibility to educate players on potential risks.

Focus on the players, others respond. The overwhelming majority of gamers are able to strike a healthy balance. But for those who are suffering, video game addiction should be treated within a wider context of mental illness. After all, video games aren’t intrinsically bad; their effects are not comparable to drugs or alcohol. What matters is how people use them.

You Decide

  1. Are video games bad for you?
  2. Is fantasy better than reality?


  1. What do you think of when you hear the word “addiction”? Write down any words or phrases that spring to mind, and then discuss your thoughts as a class. What do you consider addictive? Are we too quick to label certain things as “addictive”?
  2. Learn more about video game addiction using the resources under Become An Expert. Once you have a sense of how video game addiction is experienced, design a mood board that expresses these stories. It could include words, pictures, colours and patterns.

Some People Say...

“No one is immune from addiction; it afflicts people of all ages, races, classes and professions.”

Patrick J. Kennedy

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
There is much anecdotal evidence of video game addiction in the personal testimonies of those who have experienced it. This is reflected in the rise of private clinics in the UK and the US which specifically treat the condition. However, the rate of video game addiction within the wider population varies across different studies.
What do we not know?
There is no firm scientific consensus on how addictive video games are, if at all. There is also no firm view on how much time spent gaming constitutes an addiction — it is possible for a person to devote large amounts of time to gaming without compromising other important areas of life.

Word Watch

Jack Perry
To read Jack’s story in full, follow the Telegraph link under Become An Expert.
According to a 2009 study led by Douglas Gentile of Iowa State University.
Much lower
For example, Vladimir Poznyak from the WHO argues that gaming addiction is “a very specific condition, with specific criteria”. He claims that it probably affects “no more than one percent of some populations”.
Mental illness
According to the WHO, “gaming disorder” is characterised by a pattern of gaming behaviour which results “in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning”.
For more information on why scientists take issue with the WHO classification, see the Motherboard link under Become An Expert.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Researcher Killian Mullan argues that often “technology is being used with and in some cases perhaps to support other activities, like homework for instance, and not pushing them out”.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.