If the American Psychiatric Association decides to follow WHO’s example and officially recognize gaming disorder in DSM, they will be making an important statement of national support for funding of well-designed studies to elucidate further the effects of digital media on patients. Critics of WHO’s recognition of gaming disorder attribute the designation in part to its caving under political pressure from Asian countries, some of which have been pushing for formal recognition of gaming disorder for years.13 Gaming addiction has become a significant public health concern in countries like South Korea, with governments going so far as to enact public policies and laws to target the problem.
While it’s true that gaming in the US has not yet become the crisis that it has become in other countries, DSM inclusion of the disorder might similarly help to inspire interventions beyond the level of the individual here in the US, ideally including policy proposals for primary prevention. American politicians are already taking notice of gaming and internet addiction. The most notable example is the CAMRA Act, a bipartisan bill drafted by congress in 2018 that proposes the allotment of $95 million for government funding to the NIH in support of projects studying the effects of technology and media on youth.14
The internet and video gaming are not going away, and game designers will continue to prioritize habitual gaming over the health of players, leaving the burden of pathological gaming on users and their families. For one couple in South Korea, the burden was the death of their infant child when they neglected the child’s care in order to play video games.15 For a mother in Ohio, it was the loss of her life when she found her 16-year-old son playing Halo, reportedly for up to 18 hours a day; when she took the game away in disapproval, her son shot and killed her.16
While these examples are rare and extreme, not every individual who drinks alcohol drinks to the point of cirrhosis, and yet we screen for alcohol use regularly, assessing for when social use has become an alcohol use disorder. For many of our patients and their frustrated parents, the risks of psychiatry’s continued avoidance of a potential gaming disorder may already be too high.
Dr Gansner is Instructor in Psychiatry, Cambridge Health Alliance, Cambridge, MA. She reports no conflicts of interest concerning the subject matter of this article.
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