Hi, I’m Wesley, and I was addicted to World of Warcraft. I’m not talking about a, ‘I played this game a lot because it’s fun’ kind of thing. I’m talkin…
Underneath it all, I think the reaction to the WHO’s gaming disorder is about the fear of facing up to uncomfortable truths about game design. We celebrate games that are addictive but we refuse to call them addictive, even though they have been designed to be exactly that. Developers want you to become addicted to their games, which is understandable because if people are hooked on your game it suggests it’s really fucking good. The grind, loot, loot boxes, levelling up, infinite progression, prestige, battle passes, experience points, the numbers, the numbers and even more numbers, all going up – this is the guts of popular video games today. Keep us in the game, keep us engaged, keep us caring and then the recurring revenue rolls in. In this context, it seems reasonable that something along the lines of a gaming disorder might actually be a useful thing to think about. To do the ‘talk to the hand ‘cos the face ‘aint listening’ thing to the WHO on this is, well, it’s not a good look.
The video game industry cites concern from academics that the WHO’s inclusion of gaming disorder could lead to “a genuine risk of abuse of diagnoses”, and that’s why the “burden of evidence and the clinical utility should be extremely high”. Fair enough, more research is required. But this line feels like that bit in Star Wars when Obi-Wan Kenobi waves his hand and does the Jedi mind trick on those Stormtroopers: the industry just wants gaming disorder to go away. We’re more worried about the ramifications of gaming disorder than whether gaming disorder might be the real deal.
A more grown up approach would be for the industry to admit that not everything in video game land is peaches and rainbows. Sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes developers and publishers overreach, make mistakes, push too far and make games that don’t feel quite right. And sometimes those games that don’t feel quite right collide with people who have a certain personality type, or are vulnerable, or even just lazy, or looking for an escape, or are trying to fill a void, or find World of Warcraft the greatest thing in the entire world, and that’s where things can start to go wrong. Rather than denying gaming disorder, let’s analyse it, work out the how and why of it, whether it can help get to the root of underlying issues and, crucially, whether it’s something we need to help people overcome.