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Game addiction is not about the number of hours spent holding a controller

June 24, 2018 2 min read

A few days ago, in the wake of discussion about how recent hits such as Fortnite may be having an effect on children and young persons, talk turned to how the first gaming addiction treatment centres have sprung up in the UK. The World Health Organisation has also recognised "gaming addiction" as a separate disorder for the first time, alongside other more well-known addictions, such as to alcohol or drugs.

The World Health Organisation has not classified "gaming disorder" in terms of time spent with games, but rather in terms of the effect it has on the individual's ability to interact with society and keep up with their usual lifestyle. Here are the criteria that they use:

  • Impaired control over gaming
  • Increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities
  • Continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences

To me, this seems so far, so good. These criteria do not seem far removed from how we would describe one of the more "traditional" addictions – inability to stop drinking after two glasses of wine, drinking to the point that you can't take your children to school in the morning, and continuing to get intoxicated every single day until eventually, you lose your job. So, what is the issue?

The issue is the tendency of the non-games media and general discussion to talk about games addiction in terms of time played, in both directions. Standard news outlets gawp at 20 hours a week sat behind a controller or a keyboard, while people who play games may shrug off 30 hours at a computer as not a big deal.

Both perspectives are harmful because, as the WHO have emphasised, the issue of games addiction is not about the time spent with games. Of course, a sign of addiction is that games are taking over your life and you are saving no time for friends and family. But it has much more to do with how "your brain is on games", rather than the concrete number of hours.

Game addiction is not about the number of hours spent holding a controller screenshot