Harmless Hobby or Deadly Addiction: Research Divided on Seriousness of Gaming Addiction

In the UK, nearly five thousand divorces have been filed, according to Divorce Online, the largest website that handles divorce filings in the UK. Some of the most common reasons that have been reported include adultery, drinking, abuse… and Fortnite. Yes, the massively popular online battle royal game has been listed as the main grounds for divorce in over 200 cases, about 5% of all filings in 2018.

This sounds almost absurd. Fortnite is just a video game. Just like poker’s just a card game, yet gambling addictions have been recognized as problematic for years. Rehab International suggests over two million Americans suffer from a gambling addiction. These addicts suffer higher rates of suicide, drug problems, and yes, divorce.

Similarly, many people who suffer gaming addictions report higher rates of depression, stress, and anxiety. That translates to more hours being spent on their games, leading to deterioration in their social lives, in their work and school, in the lives around them.

In 2013, the American Psychologists Association declined to qualify gaming addiction as an actual addiction but just this past june, the World Health Organization decided to count it as an addiction, and even the APA has proposed more research into what they call Internet Gaming Disorder, or IGD. They’ve proposed nine characteristics of IGD, five of which must be displayed for someone to be diagnosed.

The characteristics they name, such as a preoccupation with gaming, and reduced participation in other recreational activities, are vague though and difficult to quantify. At what point does a harmless hobby become a dangerous disorder? It would be easy for many gamers to check off five of the nine symptoms and thus be diagnosed with IGD, yet most gamers wouldn’t actually be considered addicted, at least not to the degree where it’s harmful.

In fact, a 2016 study by the American Journal of psychiatry found that of 19,000 gamers, only 3% would be considered “at-risk”. Still, many psychologists agree that when one does suffer from a gaming addiction, it can be serious, especially to kids and teens.

This is especially concerning considering the National Survey of Student Engagement recently found a third of male college students and a fourth of female students reported playing online games for over sixteen hours while in high school, and that they play even longer when they reach college.

It’s still unclear, as of yet, whether or not gaming should be considered as serious an addiction as an addiction to gambling, for example. But playing less video games is never a mistake. Hobbies are harmless, and video games are a harmless hobby, usually. But when someone is more focused on reaching the next tier on their skill tree than on spending time with their friends, family, or significant other, it clearly becomes an issue.

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