– by David Kozlowski

You’ve waited months to play the latest shooter, RPG, MMO, or even the highly-popular DC fighting game, Injustice 2, which you perhaps discovered under the Christmas tree. Awesome, right? Since all of your friends are playing the same game, you naturally want to compete at their level, so you dive-in and grind-away for hours and hours, possibly even days and days over the holiday break. Is this just an form of deep engagement or is it a dangerous obsession?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), you might have a mental health condition — specifically, a “gaming disorder,” in medical parlance. CNN reports that the WHO is about to classify this malady as, “a persistent or recurrent” behavior pattern of “sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.” That sounds awful, but is it fair to suggest that this particular type of entertainment could result in such detrimental outcomes? After all, it’s just a game.

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I worked in the videogame industry for two decades, and I’ve seen (and personally experienced) such deep engagement countless times. For example, when Blizzard’s World of Warcraft first came out years ago, I spent nearly every waking moment in that universe for a solid six months. Gaming is my hobby, and I like to invest a lot of time into it, but does my example rise to the level of a mental health concern?

The WHO explains that the symptoms typically emerge after playing one or more online or offline games over a period of 12 months. Although, the WHO stresses that this is just a “clinical description” and they do not currently suggest preventative or reactive treatment options. Swell.

The CNN article covers a lot of ground regarding various types of video game addictions, their consequences, and the ongoing debate about possible responses. Underlying all of this is the broader concern that technology is proving ever-more detrimental to everyday life, which WHO spokesperson, Gregory Hartl, explains:

“Use of the internet, computers, smartphones and other electronic devices has dramatically increased over recent decades. Health problems as a result of excessive use have also been documented. [There is] increasing demand for treatment in different parts of the world.”

Fair enough. We’re living in a 24/7 Internet-connected world of smartphones, streaming content, and social media. That’s hardly news. Gaming is just one part of the puzzle. Sure, there have been plenty of articles written about young people over-obsessing and sometimes even dying from prolonged gaming sessions, but these are outliers, right? Maybe, maybe not. The WHO indicates that a gaming obsession might actually be an indicator of some deeper mental or emotional issue, such as depression or anxiety.

Too much of anything is not good, I’ll give you that. Everyone is probably spending too much time in front of some kind of screen (me included). But it’s clear from the CNN article that there’s no clear line delineating innocuous hobby from life-threatening obssession, because everyone’s individual experiences vary wildly. So what are we to do with this information?

Neither CNN nor WHO offers a definitive solution (if there is one at all). Even with my long experience in the industry, I can’t point to an obvious example of the worst elements of this condition, nor would I possess an effective remedy if I did. It’s a complicated world, and I’ve always felt that movies, TV, music, literature, and videogames were a great form of escapism — at what point this becomes harmful isn’t for me to say. However, I acknowledge that having this discussion is a great place to start.

Where do you stand regarding video games and mental health issues? Why do you think it struggled? Let us know in the comments down below!

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David Kozlowski is a writer, podcaster, and visual artist. A U.S. Army veteran, David worked 20 years in the videogame industry and is a graduate of Arizona State University's Film and Media Studies.