When Does Hardcore Video Gaming Become An Addiction?

By Bryan Le 07/15/19

Experts weigh in on the World Health Organization’s decision to add gaming disorder to its International Classification of Diseases.

Cropped high-angle view of a teenager with video game addiction playing on computer, with a game controller while sitting on a messy desk at home
There's a difference between hardcore gaming and gaming disorder. Arne9001 | Dreamstime.com

Many gamers know the feeling of playing for too long into the night and being just useless the next day, but that’s now something that could be indicative of gaming disorder as defined by the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases.

The WHO officially recognized gaming disorder last year, defining it as “impaired control over gaming.” The diagnosis is applicable to gamers who put their video gaming time ahead of everything else in their life, including work, study or relationships.

Is It Really An Addiction?

Many experts, including Dr. Kenneth Woog, were unsure if gaming should really be considered addictive.

"In 2002, a lot of people [were] laughing at it and scoffing at it, saying it was ridiculous," said Dr. Woog, who now treats gaming addiction. "But after doing my research in 2003 and 2004, I was pretty much convinced. I'd seen a few more clients and after I surveyed mental health professionals across the United States, I became convinced that it could be a real thing."

People may be slow to accept gaming as addictive because there isn’t a chemical component acting on the brains of gamers, suggests Dr. Alok Kanojia. The purely mental nature of video game addiction also means that a hard approach that includes abstinence is often not necessary.

“I think sobriety for gamers involves understanding why do you play the game?” said Dr. Kanojia. “To understand the drives behind the game, and to try to replace those drives with healthy alternatives.”

Personal Experience

Dr. Woog and Dr. Kanojia, who play video games themselves, say that there are a lot of benefits to playing video games. In particular, social games like Fortnite are replacing the malls of yesteryear as a space where children can socialize. Dr. Kanojia says that he tries to help his patients find a healthy balance between video games and life, a lesson he himself had to learn as a university student.

"I basically had less than a 2.0 GPA after two years of college because I was just playing a bunch of video games every night," Dr. Kanojia recounted. "I was on academic probation, really trying to figure out what was going on and didn't understand why some days I would wake up and be able to go to class and then other days not."

He took a break from school to study yoga and meditation in India.

"I started to study myself, and figure out how games interact with me, what is it about the game that I really like, why can't I wake up in the morning?" he revealed.

Unfortunately, video game addiction isn’t being taken seriously enough in the United States, where proper diagnosis and treatment for gaming disorder is hard to find.

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter