Docs Retreat From ‘Video Game Addiction’ Diagnosis

Are video games truly addictive — or just really, really fun? That question is at the heart of a controversy stirred up at an American Medical Association meeting that began on Saturday.

As part of the meeting, the AMA’s Council on Science and Public Health presented a report on the effects and addictive potential of video games, concluding with a recommendation that AMA members “strongly encourage the consideration and inclusion of ‘Internet/video game addiction’ as a formal diagnostic disorder in the upcoming revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.”

Inclusion as a formal diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, or DSM, would have wide-ranging implications for such related questions as insurance coverage and required provisions under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Widespread Opposition

Although the authors of the report said “there is currently insufficient research to definitively conclude that video game overuse is an addiction,” they also pointed out that “symptoms of time usage and social dysfunction/disruption appear in patterns similar to that of other addictive disorders,” and that “dependence-like behaviors can also occur.”

As much as 10 to 15 percent of players could be affected, they said.

The committee’s recommendation was met with hot debate at the AMA meetings, eliciting opposition from numerous opponents, including addiction experts. The committee that made the proposal reportedly backpedaled away from its position, recommending instead that the American Psychiatric Association (APA) consider the change when it revises the DSM in 2012.

Higher Risks

“Psychiatrists are concerned about the well-being of children who spend so much time with video games that they fail to develop friendships, get appropriate outdoor exercise or suffer in their schoolwork,” the APA said in response.

“Certainly a child who spends an excessive amount of time playing video games may be exposed to violence and may be at higher risks for behavioral and other health problems,” the APA added. “We look forward to further exploring this issue with our colleagues at the AMA House of Delegates meeting.”

Broad Implications

“I am not a big fan of video games, but I also believe that like a lot of things, they can become addicting,” Michael Brody, chair of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s TV and Media committee, told TechNewsWorld. “Even work and exercise can be addicting.”

However, whether video game overuse becomes classified as an official diagnosis is another question, Brody said. “When the DSM was started, there were 150 diagnoses; now we’re close to 400 — it’s enough,” he said. “It also goes against my belief that anxiety and depression are underneath all this stuff.”

There may also be implications that are difficult to grapple with, he added: “Are we going to start giving kids extra time on the SATs for being addicted to these games?

“Many parents are looking at this in total denial,” Brody concluded. “Let’s get down to the basic issues.”

Asian Approach

Video game addiction is a particularly severe problem in Asian countries such as China and Korea, where the popularity of massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) far outpaces that in the United States, Michael Cai, director of broadband and gaming for Parks Associates, told TechNewsWorld. “World of Warcraft,” which has 9 million players worldwide, is one example of that type of game, he added.

“In those countries, there are gamers who play 10 hours at a time, or even that much every day,” Cai said. “That is definitely addiction.” Consequences include not just the money spent by those who overuse the games, but also the time they dedicate to them rather than to something more constructive, he explained.

In fact, the Chinese government has established a required fatigue system whereby game characters begin to lose their power and points after 3 continuous hours of play, effectively forcing the player to stop for a while, Cai pointed out.

Premature Diagnosis?

Yet in the United States, where PC and console gaming is still far more popular than MMORPGs, game addiction does not seem to have reached the epic proportions it has in Asia, Cai said. “I just don’t think we’re at that magnitude,” he noted.

The companies that make video games, not surprisingly, have embraced the idea that more research is needed.

“The Entertainment Software Association supports mental health experts, the APA and others within the AMA, who agree that it would be premature to conclude that video game ‘addiction’ is a mental disorder,” said Michael Gallagher, president of the Entertainment Software Association.

“We understand and appreciate the concerns parents may have, but a balanced healthy life means that most anything should not be used in excess, including video games,” Gallagher said. “Our industry encourages consumers to enjoy games just as they do any other leisure activity: responsibly and in moderation as part of a well-rounded, well-adjusted lifestyle.”

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