Pac Man was one of my favorite video games growing up. Dodging the ghosts to gobble up all the dots and the brief immortality that came from scoring power pellets was exhilarating and, well, the arcade was the place to be.

Gaming has come a long way since then. From graphics and content to the incorporation of virtual reality head and body gear, gaming has exploded into a sophisticated industry and frequent pasttime for people of all ages. For most of us, it’s a way to relax and socialize with others locally or globally from the comforts of home, and for some, it can become a lucrative career choice. For others, however, excessive gaming has become a hazard to their health.

Gaming Disorder” is making its way into the next edition of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11)—a collective of diagnosable health categories, trends, and conditions used by medical professionals and researchers around the world. The WHO defines gaming disorder as “… a pattern of behavior characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”

Like other forms of addictive behavior, when gaming takes over a person’s life at the cost of relationships and responsibilities, without disruption or proper treatment, someone can suffer intense consequences to their health and well-being. Additionally, the same pleasure-seeking brain circuits get fired up in the constantly gratifying and stimulating gaming realm as do the ones that respond to the stiff drink or the next hit of something stronger. Mario, we may have a problem!

Emerging Evidence

While evidence supports that the prevalence of gaming disorder is low, Caroline Miller, editor of Child Mind Institute (CMI) stated “… excessive gaming—spending two-thirds or more of free time—is correlated with negative mental health outcomes, including higher incidence of anxiety, depression, and substance abuse …” among adolescents and that “… experts note constant attention to devices comes at the cost of other activities that are ultimately more valuable, and developmentally important.”

But there are also mental and physical health experts that believe, as many pro-tech people do, that today’s adolescents are simply engaging in the same-old behaviors—via current methods of connecting, relating, viewing, and consuming. Dr. David Anderson, director of the Behavior Disorders Center at CMI, explained that “… there are absolutely alarms to be sounded, but the vast majority of kids are engaging in screen-related behaviors that may not be either pathological or damaging.”

In a response to the addition of “gaming disorder” by the WHO into the new ICD-11, University of California–Irvine officials affirmed, “… interactive media such as games, online resources, and communities offer a new range of options for students that can lead them toward careers in that field.”

Ultimately, how we spend our time is a very personal choice. That said, education is key to making informed, healthy choices when it comes to parenting or striking that life balance between responsibility and relaxation.


— Wendy is a social worker (Project Aware) at Hedgesville High School in Berkeley County (WV).

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