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Local health experts see uptick in gaming addiction recently named a mental health disorder by WHO

Posted at 6:17 PM, May 31, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-31 22:09:40-04

Picking up a video game controller is easy for some but putting it down can be difficult for others.

That’s why the World Health Organization (WHO) is taking video-gaming to a new level, naming “gaming disorder” a mental health disorder.

The WHO is defining gaming addiction as 12-months of constant gaming that takes priority over daily activities and other interests.

Local health experts say it’s something they’ve been trying to address for the past 5 years.

Captain Nemo’s Games and Comics in San Luis Obispo has close to 100,000 video games, but the manager says he sells just as many board games as video games.

He says there has been an uptick in board game sales within the last couple of years.

“Whether you are playing poker or chess, any time you withdraw from the world, you’ve got a problem,” said Jay Fernbaugh, Captain Nemo’s Games and Comics manager.

He thinks too much gaming should be treated as an addiction rather than a mental health disorder.

The WHO is classifying gaming disorder as an official medical condition, defining it as “impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities.”

SLO County Behavioral Health clinician Cassie Ueberrhein mostly works with college students. She says she’s seen the biggest increase in gaming disorder this year.

“Some video game use in moderation is okay,” Ueberrhein said. “It can actually stimulate the brain and can be a source of self-esteem, but when something is overdone, that’s usually when it becomes unhealthy.”

She says isolation, irritability and lack of proper nutrition are all signs someone is spending too much time in front of their screen.

“They are finding some social interaction online but that is in the virtual world and not getting so much the social face-to-face interaction in the real world,” said Ueberrhein.

With the WHO bringing awareness to moderation, Fernbaugh hopes people will trade the controllers for classic cards or chess pieces.

“With smartphones and everything, people have isolated themselves for so long and now people are starving for that human interaction where they can still have fun together, but they are face to face,” said Fernbaugh.

Local health experts say the key to change is to start small.

“Let’s not go cold turkey, maybe just cut down two hours per week to start and then maybe start implementing social events with other people,” said Ueberrhein.

She says sometimes the word “addiction” is triggering for some. Health experts recommend approaching people who may have a gaming disorder with, “Hey, we haven’t seen much of you lately,” or “It looks like you have been gaming more recently.”

According to the WHO, gaming disorder only affects a small portion of people who use digital gaming, but people should pay attention to the time spent playing.

The Entertainment Software Association released a statement saying, “‘Gaming disorder’ is not based on sufficiently robust evidence to justify its inclusion in one of the WHO’s most important norm-setting tools.”