By Maya K.
With over a quarter of our world’s population into gaming, the past-time has become a global source of entertainment. More people than ever are getting online to game, and the industry is only growing. But when does a hobby become dangerous? Due to growing addiction to video games, the World Health Organization has recently deemed “gaming disorder” a real mental illness.
Gaming disorder is defined as having “a hard time controlling the amount of time spent gaming”. Like other mental disorders, the behaviour must be experienced for at least 12 months or more. But what differs “disorder” from “avid hobby”? Gaming disorder occurs when gaming interferes with “basic functioning”. So if you can’t get to school, see your friends, or take a shower because you’re so into your game, you may have gaming disorder.
A New (but Common) Mental Illness
While mental illness affects all kinds of people, there are some individuals who may be more at risk for gaming disorder. Male adolescents are 5 times more likely to have gaming disorder than any other demographic. Additionally, those with gaming disorder are more likely to have depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Further, approximately 1-10% of the North American and European population has this mental illness.
Gaming disorder has only been taken seriously in the past year or so. This is because we now know there is a neurobiological explanation for gaming addiction. When something good happens to us (like getting a good grade or winning at slots), the neurotransmitter known as dopamine is released. This is generally a good thing! Dopamine boosts our mood, which acts as an incentive to do that same thing again. But addiction can occur when we become hooked to the “high” of dopamine.
The Problem with Our Brain’s Reward System
As we fall in love with the feeling of dopamine, we spend more time chasing the high. But over time, we begin to need more and more dopamine to feel the same level of “lift” that we first had. Thus, we neglect other aspects of our life in hopes of experiencing an even better high. This is what causes a gaming addiction.
Personally, I have never been one for video games, but I can understand how people fall victim to games’ addictive nature. Additionally, I have certainly fallen down Instagram and YouTube rabbit holes without ever intending to. The addictive nature of these apps makes me wonder if in the next 10 years, a “social networking disorder” will be a common diagnosis as gaming disorder.