Guest Blog by – Craig Kelly, Adam Lynes, Kevin Hoffin, Emma Kelly and Loukas Ntanos
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has officially classified addiction to video games as a mental health disorder (Price and Snider, 2018). The agency conceptualised this particular type of addiction as persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour that can potentially take priority over other life interests and activities, despite the occurrence of negative consequences.
Discussion about the symptoms and the treatment of the addiction remains thus far inconclusive. This blogpost is in the most basic sense a rebuttal of the ludicrous notion of ‘gaming addiction’, following on from our previous blog. In essence, we argue that the reorientation in perception around the harms of video game platforms is at best misguided and at worst an echo chamber for decades of failed policy responses to substances one can actually be addicted to. In the most rudimentary sense this reorientation of thought is disorientated. Fundamentally, plausible addiction as we know it is determined via the effect of substances upon the central nervous system and the body’s eventual reliance upon them due to the sometimes fatal effects of withdrawal. As Miller et al., (1987) stated almost two decades ago:
Alcohol and drug addiction are defined in behavioural terms as the preoccupation with, compulsive use of, and relapse to drugs that are descriptive and confirmatory. The basis of addiction may involve neurochemical changes in the brain that distort and redirect the drive states (instincts). Tolerance and dependence may only be incidentally associated with addiction as a result of a nonspecific adaptation by the body to the presence of a drug. The cellular adaptation may be the same in all organs.
With this view in mind, a quick glance at the WHO’s online Q&A raises some worrying questions over this sudden back-pedal view. First and foremost, the Q&A states;
For gaming disorder to be diagnosed, the behaviour pattern must be of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months.
Initially it is blatant that this disorder has little to nothing in common with the usual ‘addictions’ that we as a society subscribe to as a concern (through the narratives pushed via the mainstream media) i.e. it is not a chemical substance. But once you take a closer look about the commonality of each impairment put forth it becomes apparent a common theme runs throughout them. Each are intrinsic to the average life of anyone aged 16-30 within modern society. During the week the government takes a drastic and much needed U-turn regarding the failed war on drugs and a new deviant “other” comes to the fore. Perhaps, if we look a little deeper it become apparent that the theoretical works of Hall may have great significance.
What does exist is a constant, flowing magma of normalised anxiety that erupts into extreme concern during unstable periods, yet still stops short of the objective fear that would restart politics in the post political world. Objective fear is far more difficult than vague anxiety to turn on inappropriate scapegoats (Hall, 2o12: 137)
On the precipice of Brexit, in a week were Trump’s regime has found it acceptable to detain and separate children before subjugating them in cages, perhaps these words have never rung so true. What is of utmost importance is that, as criminologists, we must not simply accept this recent development from WHO, and, as Hall argues;
…the theoretical wings of Criminology and Sociology must join forces to construct new ontological synthesis and adjust their research programmes according to the need to use both inductive and deductive methods to gather evidence for new ideas (Hall, 2012: 184)
In line with this theoretical perspective, and within the remit of the wider research projects these blogs stem from we would like to take the opportunity to sprinkle some thoughts on these recent developments.
In an age when the media frequently put forth idiotic notions such as “if millennials stop buying avocados they might be able to afford a house”, instead of recognising they are the product of the devastating effects of a systematic disintegration (both culturally and economically) of their forefathers. They exist within a time where universities charge extortionate fees – yet under deliver. Job prospects are at an all-time high if they sign away their dignity and enter a zero hour contracts. There is a floating island of plastic within the ocean, which if they move to, would offer much more space that the £2000 they pay per month to their landlord (whilst worrying they could be part of the next Grenfell). All the while they are force fed the pseudo American Dream. Perhaps, and this is just a hypothesis, the virtual has transcended. Perhaps society has created a generation whose only chance to being successful is encapsulated in binary code – they are the 0. In the age of social exclusion (Winlow, 2015), who are we to judge when recreation is only appealing when it is in the remit of pixilation?
Games such as Star Wars Battlefront II (which was recently investigated by Belgium’s Gaming Commission) have shown there is an issue: this is the crux of our argument– what is happening is not an addiction, what is happening is a transcendence of consumer culture. However, unlike the world of fashion and your local bookies, we are watching the emergence of the harmful effects of consumer culture (Ancrum et al, 2013) in an area where it has always been present but is now hyperbolic. What we are observing are the precipitating factors of catalysts which are bound to eventually aid late-stage capitalism’s incessant rampage. Gaming does not create addictions, but it informs the developments of habits that will eventually lead to addictions as we know it. A pseudo-gambling presence is intrinsic to gaming communities thus creating a normalising process for consumers from a young age. Parents financially facilitate such actions – endorsing and normalising the behaviour – whilst remaining blissfully unaware of the bigger picture. By this we mean not the addictions that affect the central nervous system, but the addictions of capitalism; the proliferation of credit cards, gambling addiction, and the need to win at any cost.
From Farmville to Candy Crush, technology has exacerbated the excitement of counting down the hours for reuniting with the 64-Bit Donkey Kong after a long day of school or work – now we can feed our hunger on a morning commute. With the inclusion of cosmetic items that gamers can purchase outside of the standard game content there is little difference between having the latest pair of Nike trainers or “cool” designer gear that made you the envy of others at school. Consumer culture has penetrated the visual space, and the ‘addictions’ listed by the WHO have ignored the powerful and intoxicating effects of consumer culture, mistakenly labelling such ‘addictions’ as pathological and external of such influential forces. Within both the “real” and the “virtual” world, capitalism is now inescapable. It is one step closer to solidifying its aim as an all-consuming ‘being’ (Fisher, 2009). If you were sat in Costa Coffee having a catch up with a friend and they said their child was addicted to a drug, chances are you would worry. But if they said they were addicted to Fortnite, wold you be worried? Either way is it a retreat from the ‘real world’ and real world consequences? The retreat is in-fact one of the most worthless, but prominent exemplifier. Video games are not the issue. The the socio-political realities in which they exist are – whether they are pixilated or not.
Ferrell, J. (1999). Cultural Criminology. Annual Review of Sociology, 25, pp. 395-418.
Granic, I., Lobel, A., & Engels, R. (2014). The benefits of playing video games. American Psychologist, 69, pp. 66-78.
Hall, S. (2012) Theorizing Crime and Deviance: a New Perspective, London: Sage
Price, L. and Snider, M. (2018). Video game addiction is a mental health disorder, WHO says, but some health experts do not agree. USA Today. Available at: https://eu.usatoday.com/story/tech/nation-now/2018/06/18/gaming-disorder-who-classifies-video-game-addiction-health-disorder/709574002/ [Accessed 19 June 2018]
Smith, O. and Raymen, T. (2016). Deviant Leisure: A Criminological Perspective. Theoretical Criminology. Published online before print August 11, 2016. DOI: 10.1177/1362480616660188
Stockwell, S. (2018). How online gaming became the Wild West of underage gambling. ABC.NET. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/triplej/programs/hack/how-online-gaming-became-the-wild-west-of-underage-gambling/7694146 [Accessed 19 June 2018]