Singling out video gaming as an addictive behaviour will provoke fear, but it’s not going to accomplish very much otherwise
The World Health Organisation recently ratified a revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD, currently ICD-11) that includes Gaming Disorder, which it defines as a “pattern of gaming behavior characterized by impaired control over gaming and increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities.”
You may notice a similarity between that definition and literally every single other addiction, which is why it’s so odd that the WHO is singling out games rather than say, Netflix binges or baking. It’s emblematic of a larger image problem that video games have faced for a long time. Not entirely without reason, but to this extent, unjustified.
Video games have suffered this sort of moral panicking for as long as they’ve been a thing. Player One’s inexplicable hit song Space Invaders (1979) is about teenagers being addicted to Space Invaders. There are no metaphors or layers to that song, it’s all on the surface. Those same teenagers are now in their late 50s, and while they haven’t exactly done a bang-up job with the planet, I doubt it’s because they’ve all been caught up in Space Invaders. Then the “video games cause violence” debate happened, and has been happening for the last forty years with no research proving an actual correlation.
I’m not denying that video games can be addictive, that would be stupid, and there are enough nerds on the internet jumping to that defense. Anything that stokes the dopamine centres of our stupid lizard brains is inherently addictive, so the question has never been “what is addictive?”, but rather “which addictions are socially acceptable, and which are not?”. Specifically defining video games as potentially addictive is just going to lead to terrified and stupid people checking little Timmy into rehab because he’s been playing Fortnite after school a little too much.
There are plenty of problems with video games that aren’t being discussed in favour of a generic “playing video games is bad” argument. Misleading language and malicious practices designed to siphon money away from the vulnerable abound in the industry, and more problematic games are designed specifically to provoke addiction and then instigate withdrawal to, again, draw money out from children and less savvy adults. These real problems with the gaming industry are being glossed over in favour of pushing a drastically oversimplified idea.
The solution to video game addiction, as with all things, is to stop being idiots. Possible addiction is a normal side effect of enjoying things, that’s just reality, but the solution isn’t to stop enjoying things, it’s to enjoy things in moderation. Defining things as a “gaming disorder” won’t do anything except stoke fear and provide an easy out for people unwilling to take responsibility for their own problems with moderation.