Abu Dhabi: The classification of gaming addiction as a disorder by the World Health Organisation (WHO) will help authorities understand the gravity of the problem in the UAE, as well as develop professional resources to help those in need, experts said.
Data on the condition is very limited, but some preliminary studies have already projected that up to 12 per cent of students in the country spend about 10 hours on gaming everyday.
“Now that it is classified as a medical condition, authorities can look into studying its prevalence and its peculiarities. They can also work to formally assess those affected, and make treatment recommendations as the condition becomes better understood,” Dr Shamil Wanigaratne, consultant clinical psychologist at the National Rehabilitation Centre (NRC), told Gulf News.
After years of debate among experts, the disorder has been formally included in the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases, a highly regarded compendium of medical conditions. In England, for instance, this means that patients can get treated in public health care facilities.
Around the world, an estimated 2.6 billion people play video games, according to the Entertainment Software Association.
Annual revenue for the industry is also expected to grow 31 per cent to $180 billion (Dh661 billion) globally within three years.
In 2002, a South Korean man was believed to be the first person to die from online game binge-playing after playing for 86 hours. Three years later, another South Korean man died in an internet cafe, and other deaths have since been reported in Taiwan, Russia and the United Kingdom.
Dr Ahmad Al Kashef, a former researcher at the NRC, Abu Dhabi’s public rehabilitation facility, earlier told Gulf News that youngsters in the UAE have been known to spend up to $6,000 (Dh22,038) a year on games, including online purchases. He also compared it to drug use, saying that some gamers want to play all the time and feel restless until they can get back to their games.
“I believe gaming turns into an addiction when a gamer wants to continue playing to the detriment of his or her everyday functioning, and while ignoring other rewarding activities,” Dr Wanigaratne explained.
He added that the NRC had anecdotal evidence of the existence of gaming disorders among patients in the UAE.
“The problem is that the scant evidence available makes it difficult for professionals to make recommendations. For instance, parents know that too much screen time can be hazardous for children. But how much is too much, and what does a professional say when asked this question? Now that it has been recognised as a disorder, we can hope for more comprehensives studies that will lead to actual guidelines on screen and gaming time limits,” Dr Wanigaratne explained.
Gamers not convinced
Gamers who spoke with Gulf News were sceptical of the WHO’s classification and expressed concern that it would lead to their passions unnecessarily being viewed in a negative light.
One gamer in his 20s said many individuals like him identify strongly with characters in the games they play, and preventing them from playing could lead to depressive symptoms.
As a teenager, he reported playing for up to 10 hours a day, but said his parents intervened when his grades dropped.
A founder of an e-sports organisation added that gamers should not be treated as addicts, and that social systems should step in before a point of addiction is reached. His organisation enrols gamers as members, and sets up tournaments between them from time to time, with players ranging in age from 16 to 27 years.
“It is massively multiplayer online role-playing games, like World Of Warcraft, which hook gamers. Players find it hard to disconnect because they miss out on online ‘events’ if they do not play, and this causes them to fall behind their friends, for instance,” he explained.
“While this is understandable, I don’t believe there is a need to call gamers ‘diseased’ or unwell. Instead, parents and friends should intervene when they see that a gamer’s health or education is being affected, for instance,” he said.