It is now officially possible to have a “gaming disorder”.
Unfortunately, the term will be left open to interpretation, causing worry for parents who are currently watching their kids sit for hours playing ‘Fortnite’, the latest video game craze.
In case you’ve missed it, ‘Fortnite’ has taken over the gaming world with hundreds of millions of downloads, mesmerising kids and teens all over the world.
You can play it on an Xbox, PlayStation, iPhone or iPad. Its most compelling feature is a segment called Battle Royale, in which you play directly online against dozens of other people, probably including your friends.
Ask any parent with a 10-year-old who has a game console and they’ll tell you all about it.
Some reports say it is causing rows and disruption in family homes, with kids pleading to play ‘just one more game’.
Extreme cases are also emerging, such as the British nine-year-old girl who is reportedly in rehab after wetting herself because she couldn’t drag herself away from the game.
So is the World Health Organisation’s new classification of a “gaming disorder” due recognition for a serious undiagnosed health issue? Or is it merely a sidebar annotation designed to cover all eventualities?
Can your child have a gaming disorder if they throw a tantrum when you tell them it’s time to have dinner or go to bed?
The exact criteria for diagnosis will undoubtedly emerge in the coming weeks or months. In the meantime, we should all try to keep some perspective on what a gaming disorder is likely and unlikely to be.
Top of the ‘unlikely’ list is any equation to ‘addiction’.
Addiction is a word tossed about casually. Often, it is done light-heartedly, such as being ‘addicted to chocolate’ or a hit television show.
But it is sometimes used a lot more inappropriately.
Politicians or attention-seeking pundits will scream that ‘your kids face addiction’ in all sorts of activities, up to and including casual video games.
I’m no doctor. But I do know that actual addiction is a very high level of psychological or medical dependency.
When used correctly, it is associated with extremely serious issues such as gambling, alcohol and drugs.
People genuinely can’t help themselves.
Addictions cause families and careers to be broken up. Houses are lost. People die.
Hence, addictions are different to fads, crazes or obsessions.
If we accept these parameters, where does a game like ‘Fortnite’ lie?
Is attachment to it comparable with an addiction to drugs and alcohol? Or is it more synonymous with simply being the latest fad?
Those arguing the latter probably have a long list. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that ‘Pokémon Go’ was the compulsive new thing. Then ‘Minecraft’, with some parents still saying their kids are obsessed with it.
And that’s not even to talk about social messaging services like Snapchat.
But now all of those things are well established, so the novelty of being scared of them has worn off.
Let’s watch out for our kids without falling prey to fearmongers.