With 'gaming disorder' classified as mental health condition, gamers learning to play responsibly

- Video games are sparking controversy this week after the World Health Organization classified compulsive video game playing as a mental health disorder.

Cam Adair said before he went to counseling, he was unable to stop playing video games.

“Ended up dropping out of high school – not once, but twice,” he said. “Never graduated. Never went to college.”

He played for up to 16 hours a day and he’s apparently not alone.

The World Health Organization said video game players can become addicted and has added “gaming disorder” to its International Classification of Diseases.

“You have a wide array of some people who are just having a little bit of difficulty and their grades have suffered a little bit, and then I have people … just everything has stopped in their lives,” said Dr. Edward Spector.

He is one of just a handful of clinical psychologists in the country who specializes in the treatment of compulsive use of technology. Dr. Spector said on average, he sees 30 patients a week at his Rockville, Maryland office. They are usually all male and some are as young as middle school students.

“Video gaming is being done by children. So at what point do we expect a child to have control of themselves around technology?” Dr. Spector said. “Every parent has to be very much involved in teaching the healthy use of technology, in teaching limit setting and self-regulation.”

“We are teaching the Xs and Os of how to play the game, but also balance,” said Josh Hafkin, founder of The Game Gym in Potomac, Maryland.

The Game Gym is a place where they try to provide a more in-person social setting where gamers can hopefully learn to play responsibility.

“You need coaches, you need some mentors, you need to help kids – and parents can’t always do it because you're dealing with digital immigrants and digital natives,” said Hafkin. “Digital immigrants are trying to corral, control and educate the digital natives, which is backwards. So what we are figuring is that there needs to be a translator between the digital immigrant and digital native, and that’s where we come in.”

There are only three percent of gamers worldwide who are thought to have “gaming disorder."

Dr. Spector said the new classification leaves a lot more questions than answers, but it does provide people who really need help a chance to get it.

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