It would be more helpful if governments and global organisations put as much effort into funding rehabilitation for addictions than trying to weaponise stigma.
The World Health Organisation has classified gaming addiction as a disorder, after decades of endless debates about the impact of gaming on society. The problem is, this seems more like an attempt to pacify mothers who can’t get their kids to come to the table to get their dinner within five minutes than actually taking gaming seriously.
The discussions around potential ‘gaming addictions’ have raged for a long time. Every time a (white) violent terrorist makes the news there are questions about whether he was too fond of gaming. There was endless scrutiny around Grand Theft Auto and its violent content but too often these discussions are designed to stigmatise people who enjoy gaming which is as ridiculous as trying to claim people who enjoy swimming are addicted to water.
Parents are particularly culpable when it comes to trying to stigmatise gaming. If their child is late, or bored or doesn’t want to spend time with them then they must have a gaming addiction. In almost all of the interviews around gaming (and especially Fortnite right now) there are concerned parents saying how their children won’t come down for dinner and don’t want to spend time with the family. Maybe your chicken casserole just sucks, Susan.
So much about gaming is about control, at least when it comes to children. Parents used to complain when kids spent all of their time playing out, and then it was watching TV and now it is playing games. There just feels like no solution that will make them happy at this point.
Games can also be hugely beneficial to mental health. Stories can be uplifting and a great distraction from the pressures of real life. For those who may have social anxiety, online play might be the best and most comfortable way of communication. Games can also connect people as much as chatting about your favourite TV show or band.
“Games can also be a hugely beneficial to mental health”
The focus on gaming as an addiction though entirely misses the point. For one thing, addictions aren’t treated properly. There aren’t enough services and so even if the WHO really believes that gaming can become addictive their categorisation means utterly bullshit when absolutely no supportive services will be made available to those deemed addictions. However, the worst thing is that it ignores the much more serious issues within the community. The danger doesn’t come from addiction. The danger of games is that the community can be toxic. There can be harassment, trolling, sexual acts depicted through characters, casual racism in online chats and all out political movements such as Gamergate which are designed to spread hate and drive women and marginalised people out of gaming spaces. These are the conversations we should be having around gaming, and especially with children. The focus shouldn’t be on stigmatising something obviously fun, but about how to make gaming – and gaming culture – safer.
The decision to classify gaming addiction as a disorder feels as though it ignores gamers completely, and that the WHO is actually taking advice from concerned parents and outraged media when it should actually be looking at what is really going on. Gamers don’t have a problem with addiction. If that was our biggest problem, we might be doing better as a community.
If you enjoyed reading this article, we’d appreciate your support, which you can offer by buying Stand Up a coffee here.