Entertainment Software Association or World Health Organisation – Who is right?


The ESA, otherwise known as the Entertainment Software Association, recently fired back at the WHO, or World Health Organization, or classifying Gaming Addiction as a disorder. With the massive debate among what constitutes an addiction or addictive behavior, who is right on this issue? The ESA, or the WHO?

Well, to find this out, we have to find out what the WHO defines as Gaming Addiction. The WHO has made this very simple for us. WHO outlined three criteria that need to be met before one is seen as being addicted to games. These requirements are:

  • A lack of control when gaming (such as playing too often, or for too long, and being unable to stop)
  • Prioritizing games over other lifestyle activity (such as chores, school, work, family life, etc.)
  • Continuing to play games more frequently and for longer, even when faced with negative consequences, such as getting in trouble, truancy, or being late for work.

The ESA responded to this in a statement to the press, which stated:

Just like avid sports fans and consumers of all forms of engaging entertainment, gamers are passionate and dedicated with their time. Having captivated gamers for more than four decades, more than 2 billion people around the world enjoy video games. The World Health Organization knows that common sense and objective research prove video games are not addictive. And, putting that official label on them recklessly trivializes real mental health issues like depression and social anxiety disorder, which deserve treatment and the full attention of the medical community. We strongly encourage the World Health Organization to reverse direction on its proposed action.

Does the ESA have a point?

In my personal opinion, no. They seem to be conflating people who would have something like Gambling Addiction with someone who merely likes to gamble. According to the WHO, the only people who would qualify for this diagnosis are people who can’t control themselves when gaming, and who are having significant negative consequences when it comes to gaming. Just playing games all day and being a fan of them, or playing games for a living does not mean you qualify for any of these criteria. Just playing games doesn’t even you are addicted to them, even if you play for 8-10 hours a day.

Also, there is a problem with the ESA stating “The World Health Organization knows that common sense and objective research prove video games are not addictive.” The ESA has no medical credibility when it comes to interpreting medical data. The evidence shows that video games CAN, in fact, be addictive, the same way exercise can be addictive, because if it did not state such, the WHO and the APA would not say otherwise.

Although I understand the backlash. Games have had a bad life, with many claiming that they cause violence, cause sexism, and more. Fervent gamers have been attacked as “toxic” and awful people, so I can understand that gamers do not also want to be seen as “addicted,” like a drug addict. They don’t want to be treated as if there is something else wrong with them for liking games, and feeling that way is perfectly reasonable.

However, our feelings do not negate what the facts say

The experts in their field assume that the data states that one can be addicted to games under specific reasonable criteria. It might be better for us to accept it than to try to tell the experts that they can’t interpret scientific studies, or that something is “common sense.”

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