By Grant J Everett
Everyone has at least one hobby they enjoy, such as reading, woodwork, painting landscapes, tuning cars or pulling off stealthy museum heists. There was once a time where you could devote hours and hours to your pastime of choice without anyone looking twice, but these days it seems that everything fun is gradually becoming classed as a mental disorder. What was once considered a passion or a raison d’être is now an unhealthy fixation or an obsession…even if you’re still just a child.
A leading council of mental health experts in the USA have decided that video game addiction is, yes, a common mental disorder among children, and they want their findings placed in the mental health bible (the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual) so that all these so-called addicts can have their treatment covered by health insurance providers. Many mental health experts have complained that this is all going too far.
The statistics say that nine out of ten American kids play video games, but only about fifteen percent of these could be considered to be addicted. Just to give you a more solid number, that’s about five million children who are thought to be addicted to video games in the US alone.
Hear that noise? That’s the sound of a thousand therapists upgrading to larger yachts.
As with any sort of compulsive behaviour, there’s a good chance that excessive video game use is simply the surface picture of something difficult going on inside, a ripple on the water that means a kid is hurting for some reason. The question we should ask is whether this addiction the core of the problem, or simply a symptom of something else that needs more urgent attention. Also, if a child is sinking all their time into Halo, then it’s likely they’ll get socially isolated and neglect their real life in the process, which is the real issue here. You can find plenty of anecdotal stories about particularly extreme players who will go without sleep for days at a time and give up on their basic hygiene altogether, but I’ve also come across tales about the most hard-core gamers wearing diapers to take away the necessity of toilet breaks, though I sincerely hope this was an exaggeration or an urban legend.
The most addictive of all video games is the Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG), like World of Warcraft, EVE Online and Guild Wars, as almost all of the big ones require a monthly subscription to play and are designed to hook players like digital cigarettes. After all, Blizzard (the company behind World of Warcraft, the biggest of all MMORPGs) has been generating about $1 billion a year from their subscribers for over a decade, so it’s a business model that might as well be an electronic money tree. The addictive nature of MMORPGs can easily drag players far deeper than your average shooter for many reasons, such as how they don’t have an actual end, the constant release of updates and other proven money-earning techniques.
As with any sort of compulsive behaviour, there’s a good chance that excessive video game use is simply the surface picture of something difficult going on inside, a ripple on the water that means that a kid is hurting for some reason. The question we need to ask is whether addiction the core of the problem, or simply a symptom of something else that needs more urgent attention. Also, if a child is sinking all their time into Halo, then it’s likely they’ll be getting socially isolated and neglecting their responsibilities in the process, which is the real issue here.
While I obviously wouldn’t go so far as to pull on the Depends any time soon, I must admit that video games are one of my most beloved pastimes. I can quite easily clock up several hours a day on my Xbox or laptop, but it’s not the totality of who I am. I work, I have many other rewarding hobbies, and I regularly meet friends for coffee, dinner and movies. Saying I have a mental disorder because I enjoy kicking back with a decent session of Skyrim or Grand Theft Auto V is insulting. It’s a hobby that can be expensive, time consuming, hard to put down and rewarding all at the same time, but what good hobby isn’t?
Video games have been blamed for everything from school shootings to teen suicides.The highly interactive nature of video games makes them powerfully immersive, and this means players will be a lot more invested in what’s going on than, say, watching a movie, so it would be naive to claim that they have no effect on the player’s brain. And if the real life of some lonely, picked-on kid leaves a lot to be desired, can you blame them for wanting to live in a place that makes them feel good, a place that accepts them unconditionally? The professionals should be more focused on finding out what these “addicts” are trying to escape from so they can treat the root of the problem, rather than just snapping off the visible twigs.
So what’s the next mental disorder going to be? From what I hear, all you people who fold your toilet paper before wiping had better watch out, because the scrunchers are getting a petition together as we speak…
Sydney Morning Herald