Gaming addicts, in recent studies, have been found to have brain changes that are very similar to the neural changes found in individuals with drug addictions as evidenced in Chin Kung-Ho’s April 2009 study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research. How severe these changes are, however, has yet to be agreed upon. Is a gaming addict equivalent to a heroin addict? I don’t believe so and it is safe to assume the majority of the public would agree with me considering that a significant percentage of the general public does not recognize gaming addiction as a legitimate addiction. Even the DSM-V chose not to categorize gaming addiction as a mental disorder; instead it labels gaming addiction under the section class 3, indicating it ‘needs further evidence’ before it can be considered a mental disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).
There is significant social stigma towards considering gaming addiction as serious as drug addictions, which is understandable because in the past, the label addiction was applied almost exclusively to drugs. Until 2011, the definition for addiction was clearly drug-based, being described as a progressive compulsive need for a psychoactive substance. This history of associating addiction with drugs has created a societal norm that gaming addiction breaks. With the new definition from the American Society for Addiction Medicine stated on their website in 2011, addiction is now defined as a behavior or process that causes physical changes within the neural pathways. This clarification that addiction is rooted in the brain and not based on ingestion of drugs allows gaming addiction and various other activities that can be addicting such as Internet use or sexual activity to be considered serious addictions. This change is far too recent to have given society time to adapt and accept the new way of perceiving addiction.
Another issue with taking gaming addiction seriously is that video games are legal throughout every developed nation that has a gaming industry. Most drugs, especially widely known addictive drugs such as cocaine or crystal meth, are illegal and viewed as destructive for society. Meanwhile video games are mass-marketed to the entire population and due to the low prevalence of gaming addiction, the majority of the public only sees the safe and enjoyable side of video gaming. According to a study of online gamers by Nicholas Yee published in Springer 2006, it is common for sufferers of gaming addiction to play 40-hour weeks, often choosing gaming over basic needs of socializing. This leaves little to no public exposure of the disorder. In an already low prevalence rate, the lack of visibility of gaming addicts provides few opportunities to increase public awareness of the disorder, further preventing gaming addiction from gaining the necessary recognition to be taken seriously by society.
Even if gaming addiction were to be taken seriously by society, diagnosing addicts is difficult because gaming addiction is not universal across games. For example, say there are two addictive games called Civilization and World of Warcraft. Suppose someone has played both and is addicted to Civilization but has absolutely no urge to keep playing World of Warcraft. Under the disorder regarding Civilization, the person would be a gaming addict, which suggests video games cause changes in their brain that can be described as addiction. But in fact this person can play World of Warcraft and suffer no detriment to their mental health. Therefore, this person does not suffer from gaming addiction disorder; rather they have an addiction to the game Civilization and no addiction to World of Warcraft. Cases such as this would lead to confusion and possibly more societal stigma. How can someone be addicted to one video game as opposed to another? Is an addiction to a certain video game more serious than another?
Treatment would be even harder to address, as gaming is everywhere nowadays. There are games on your phone, computer, tablet, and console. Rehabilitation could be an option but where would gaming addicts have to go? Sharing rehabilitation centers with drug addicts could trivialize more serious addictions being treated. Opening a center for just gaming addicts wouldn’t yet be economically feasible due to the low prevalence rate of gaming addiction.
Looking into the distant future, most of these issues will likely become less serious as they are time-sensitive issues. It often takes years for societal norms to adapt to new issues and gaming addiction is clearly one of them. As for now and the next few years, gaming addiction will continue to be taken less seriously than it should, but within a few decades, it will undoubtedly be accepted as an addiction and likely be taken as serious as it deserves.