Mental Health & Excessive Mass Media Consumption

The W.H.O acknowledges „Gaming disorder“ as an official part of the upcoming (2020) ICD-11,let`s discuss...

Gaming disorder is characterized by a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour (‘digital gaming’ or ‘video-gaming’), which may be online (i.e., over the internet) or offline, manifested by:

  1. impaired control over gaming (e.g., onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination, context);
  2. increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities; and
  3. continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences. The behaviour pattern is of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.

The pattern of gaming behaviour may be continuous or episodic and recurrent. The gaming behaviour and other features are normally evident over a period of at least 12 months in order for a diagnosis to be assigned, although the required duration may be shortened if all diagnostic requirements are met and symptoms are severe.

It`s now official:

The Gaming Industry seems to have a mental health related problem on all fronts.

Shortly after we faced a wave of articles, which accused prominent Developers like Bioware , NeatherRealms et al. of crunching their stuff into burn-out and anxiety by means of massive overhours and seemingly randomized project-goals, the world health organization puts an emphasize on the possibility that big gaming companies might have more in common with south-american drug cartels than meets the eye. Now „Free to Play“ gets the hidden connotation, that the path to addiction is paved with free premium currency.

But is it fair to single out the video game industry as especially irresponsible? Are the extreme cases of gaming addiction in the context of human society blown out of proportion?

Surely, the truism

„Too much of a good thing is a bad thing“

can be applied to any human field of activity. In the old days there were „bookworms“, should these people have been classified as having a „reading disorder“? Why not classifying Free-Climbers like Alex Honnold, Bungie jumpers and Ultra-Marathon-runners as having an „extreme sport disorder“?

I think, the classification might be justified.

 If we just look at the numbers of growth the global games market enjoys by riding the mobile wave since the beginning of the 21st Century:

Gwroth of the Game industry since 2001

It‘s no joke. It‘ s an epidemic. Games have become the new Leitmedium of the masses. More an more kids and adults spend more and more money and especially lifetime  inside of gaming habitats. Recently Netflix stated that the true media wars of the future are not fought between Netflix, HBO and Disney but with everyone together against Fortnite. The term „screen-time“ as a new measure for success is crucial in this context. With humans generally  being bad at multi-tasking, despite their believing otherwise, there is a finite ressource of attention, and everyone wants to get a few scraps of it. Screen-time is running out. Tick, Toc clocks the chip.

In this context it might be more understandable why the stress-factors game developers face are especially dangerous for ones mental health: Many developers have a history with games, a high proportion that now enters the field comes with a considerable gameography, experiences that shaped their youth and adolescence, with a high initial passion to deliver the dopamine to their customers that they were used to get out of a killstreak or a speedrun in the past. The outliers are stories like these:, but for the disorder to be fed it might actually be all the same if one works on a „My little Pony“ game or on a Horror-Game.

For some this might be comparable to the situation of a dry drunk , they might not even play games in their past-time anymore, but exhibit a lot of the symptoms of their former (untreated) gaming disorder.

These are all speculations at this point. Now that the W.H.O. has officially taken a stance, there will hopefully be a lot more scientific studies to determine the long-term effects of excessive media consumption in general and gaming in particular.

But it`s not too early imo to come to the conclusion that the Loot-Box discussion we faced during the last year, the „predatory practices“ and the legal implications Belgium implemented as the first country are playing a main part in the future discussion about how to reach an ethical responsible and society-compatible solution, how to monetize games as a product, without harming the mental health of its most vulnerable customers.

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