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How much is too much?

WHO has classified ‘internet gaming disorder’ as a mental health condition. Watch out for the tipping point when a leisure activity turns into an addiction

Rajiv is an introvert by nature. He has no friends, seldom steps out of his house. Mostly he is seen playing video games. The world of counter-strike, FIFA, WWE 2K18, PUBG and many other such games intrigue him more than the ‘mundane’ tasks of life, more than anything else. But he is unaware of how his ‘love’ for gaming is nothing but a mental health condition – which, if it remains untreated, can turn out to be as serious as drug or substance abuse.

On June 18, WHO in its 11th International Classification of Diseases -11 (ICD-11) roster has classified ‘internet gaming disorder’ as a mental health condition. It has defined gaming disorder as a “as a pattern of gaming behaviour (digital gaming or video gaming) characterised 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.”

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“I tend to forget all pain when I am playing games”, says Omkar Jagtap, 23, an electrical engineer from Mumbai. He indulges in gaming for 10 hours on a daily basis. He claims that when he first started gaming four years back, it was nothing but a time pass for him. But then he started growing ‘passionate’ towards it. Moreover, he refuses to believe that addiction towards gaming is a mental health issue. “It just depends on one’s choice. Some people may like to spend time reading, while others might want to indulge in gaming,” he adds.

Many, like Jagtap, indulge in gaming for hours. “Earlier when I was in college, I used to play games for eight or nine hours daily. But now, once I have started working, I do not get the time for playing as much as I used to,” says Romit Chakraborty, 23, a software engineer from Delhi. However, he believes addiction is something which depends on how much self-control you have. “Be it cigarette, alcohol, drugs or gaming – all these if done excessively can lead to abuse and addiction, but if done in a limited way then there’s no harm to it”, he further explains.

“This is in line with the increasing significance being given to ‘Behavioural Addictions’. It has been observed that certain behaviours such as gambling, internet use and gaming can take up patterns similar in nature to those classically seen in people who are addicted to alcohol or other substances. Aside from the similarities in behavioural patterns, brain imaging in behavioural addictions also shows features that may be seen in people who are addicted to substances,” said Dr Shwetank Bansal, Consultant Psychiatrist, BLK Superspeciality Hospital, New Delhi, while expressing his view on WHO’s classification.

With the development of technology, the gaming industry in India has expanded manifold. In 2017, a Google-KPMG report projected that India will have 310 million online gamers by 2021. The same study also showcased that the Indian gaming industry, which was worth $290 million will hit $1 billion. This has evidently given rise to the number of professional gamers in the country.

Also, Newzoo, a gaming research company, released its 2018 ‘Global Game Market’ report – an interactive data resource which highlights the top regions and countries for gaming revenues. India ranked 16th in the report.

“Two weeks ago, for the first-time, sports section has been added to Hotstar. Our ESL India Premiership (sponsored by ESL Play, which is the world’s leading platform for e-Sports) is a gaming tournament which is now available on Hotstar,” says Satadru Bhowmick, 24, a professional gamer who works for Nodwin Gaming, a company responsible for hosting gaming tournaments across the country. He explains how these e-sports tournaments are like any other sports – where there are proper practice sessions, jerseys and good prize money.

On explaining how he ventured into professional gaming, he said, “One of my friends introduced me to a gaming café, where I saw other people playing in a multiplayer mode. It seemed fun and I was intrigued by it. The whole gaming experience is more exciting when you are playing with nine other guys rather than playing alone. I initially worked as a caster (like a commentator in cricket games) for DOTA 2 (multiplayer online battle arena game). That’s how I began my career in gaming.”

Not all gamers are addicted and not all those who play games for long hours are necessarily suffering from gaming disorder. Dr Bansal explains that studies suggest that gaming disorder affects only a small proportion of people who engage in digital or video gaming activities and the pattern of gaming behaviour can serve as an indication of addiction. “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, unless it leads to a severe decline in functioning, in which case a duration shorter than 12 months may be considered significant too.”

Bhowmick believes such classification will not affect the gaming industry in our country in any way. It will depend on person to person. There’s a difference between those who are addicted to gaming and those who are taking it up as a profession. Thus, it depends on whether gaming has made that person secluded from society or made him more interactive. “I believe there’s a disorder in everything – every person is obsessed with something or the other. I’ve seen a 45-year-old cheer his son on the stage during a gaming tournament. It shows how parents are supporting this as well. I take this as a progress in our gaming industry,” he says.

Many experts believe digital detox can be used as a treatment of gaming disorder. Bansal seconds this view, but not wholly. “Cognitive behaviour therapy is most commonly in use to treat gaming disorder. But it may or may not include digital detox,” adds Bansal.

Krishna Agarwal, 22, from Surat, who’s associated with Paradox Gamers, an e-sports company which organises gaming tournaments, believes gaming helps in relieving stress. When asked what he feels about WHO’s recent classification, he says with a smile, “If your gaming addiction can fetch you a medal in the Asian Games, and possibly one in the future Olympic Games, then GAME ON!”