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WHO to consider 'excessive video gaming'

"Excessive video gaming" will soon be considered a disability by the World Health Organization  a proposition that has ruffled the feathers of many. 

Perhaps it hits a little too close to home for some of us. In many gaming circles, the amount of time dedicated to playing a game without stopping is often seen as a badge of honor. 

The longer you play without a break, the more "dedicated" you were. "Binge gaming," as it was called long before Netflix ever hit the scene, was a rite of passage. Who would think in those days that it could be dangerous, or the sign of something much worse?

The WHO's "gaming disorder" will be added to the beta draft of its upcoming 11th International Classification of Diseases. It's defined as a "persistent or recurrent" pattern of "sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning." 

The guidelines establish a pattern over a period of 12 months before this diagnosis can be made, though if symptoms are severe enough, professionals may include people who have been playing for shorter periods of time. 

Reaction has been swift in many gaming communities. Many point out that gaming itself is not the issue, but rather the symptom of something larger that must be identified and dealt with. Fair point. Others point out how many other activities, such as binge watching television or excessive eating, are just as dangerous, but aren't as scrutinized. 

But there is something different about wholly dedicating one's life to video games to the detriment of everything else in life, including basic functions, such as eating, drinking, hygiene or employment. There's something about gaming that can be addicting at its core, which can lead to disastrous outcomes. 

In 2015, a Taiwanese man was found dead in an internet cafe after playing a video game for three days straight without a single break. A week prior, a 38-year-old in Taipei died in an internet cafe after spending five straight days playing video games. Another person died in 2012 after spending several days playing video games. 

Video games are a form of escapism that many of us have needed at some point in our lives. They also provide many more hours of engaged entertainment than the relatively short experience of seeing a new movie in theaters or watching the season premier of a favorite television show. Whereas someone might stay up until midnight to see the latest "Star Wars" flick in theaters  at least when midnight showings were the public's first chance to see the new release  staying up to midnight to enjoy the newest "Call of Duty" release or "World of Warcraft" expansion can lead to many hours of play time at the expense of sleep and down time. 

How many of us have waited until midnight to get that new game, rushed home and sat down and played all night until the sun came up the next morning? 

I certainly have  on many occasions. I realized the impact of the lack of sleep could have on my body and my productivity. I stopped and have managed my playing time much better in the years since  sometimes to my chagrin. But it was a healthy change and one I would gladly make again. 

Contrary to some beliefs, the WHO designation is not an attack on our hobby or the video game industry as a whole. It's not a bunch of stuffed-shirted scientists looking down from their ivory towers, casting judgment on gamers as a whole. Instead, it's shining a light on a very real problem. 

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