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Calling gaming a mental illness is not fair play


Calling gaming a mental illness is not fair play

If we say this about esports, we can say the same about any other sport - and work, for that matter

Barry Louzada

Recently, there was an article, titled “Compulsive gaming classified as mental illness”, that was doing the rounds within the South African gaming community. When I first saw it I was taken aback; after being involved in esports (competitive gaming) for more than 20 years I thought I might need to go and have myself checked out.
I mean, how could I not have known about this “illness” that I may have? I felt happy and fulfilled, maintained a happy balance between playing, working and friends and family. I wasn’t harming myself or anyone else, and I wasn’t depressed, confused or miserable.
Was I missing something?
The World Health Organisation is considering putting gaming in a “mental disorder” box, claiming that there is something wrong with you if you spend “too much time” gaming.
So, what is too much time?If we were to make the assessment that more than five hours a day is “too much”, then we could say that perhaps spending anywhere between six to eight hours a day may be bordering on that line – kind of like what the average person spends in front of their computer at a normal nine-to-five job.
Have we classified “work” as a mental disorder because I know personally that work regularly interferes with me being able to see my friends and getting out of the house and spending time in nature.
I have made lifelong friends across the globe through my involvement in esports and I feel that people have the misconception that someone who plays games and sits in front of their computer for hours at a time is being antisocial.
If a person spends eight hours a day playing the piano to practise and become the best in the world, I can almost guarantee people will say “he or she is going to be the next Mozart” or “look at that incredible dedication and commitment!” But by the WHO’s definition this should be classified as a mental illness. If a child were to spend hours and hours a week playing football outside, that would be okay because “he is outside”, or “he will be the next Ronaldo and earn millions of dollars”.Having said all this, I feel it necessary to put a few things in context.
Esports players in some of the top teams in the world are getting a salary of $12,500 a season (a season being roughly two to three months). This amount doesn’t include the prize money, which for some players is in excess of $3-million.
Sure, money doesn’t make the world go around, but we do at some point need to realise that esports have just as much potential as any other sport. I don’t know of any other “mental illness” that can bring this kind of financial reward, unless we expand the definition of mental illness.
If we state that a serious gamer crying when being eliminated from a particular competition hints at an unhealthy attachment, then we need to have every player on every football team that has just been eliminated from the World Cup put in for psych evaluation.
That also includes all the fans of those teams who in some extreme cases have ended their lives because their teams were knocked out of a tournament. Okay, that is an indication of a real problem, but every mental health professional worth their salt will point out that ultimately it had nothing to do with the game, and more to do with deeper issues that poor fan was experiencing.Esports players put just as much heart and oul into their chosen esports as any other sportsperson or musician. If you are reading this and still disagree, and feel that you can’t compare playing for the Portugal or Germany national team to playing for SK Gaming or Team Liquid (two very successful professional esports teams overseas), or that you can’t compare being Cristiano Ronaldo to being Sumail or Fallen (well-known global esports players) then you know nothing about esports and whether it should be classified as a mental illness.
Bringing it a little closer to home, Gareth Scott, the coach for XTC, started his own company called Level Up, which is focused purely on gamers and helping them maintain a healthy, balanced lifestyle. He was also featured by Men’s Health where he speaks about gamers and how wrong the stereotype around them being unhealthy is.
Scott says: “The goal is to involve gamers and help players live a healthier lifestyle by offering tips on nutrition and staying in shape. I am trying to build a community where people can help and motivate each other. Eventually we’d like to open a fitness centre that focuses on the mind, body and soul.”This is exactly what gaming is all about – community and the growth of that community, all having a common topic to discuss no matter your race, gender or physical appearance.
Most, if not all, competitive organisations spend a lot of time and money on maintaining that healthy balance; international organisations spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on nutritionists, health specialists and mental fitness coaches to help deal with the stresses that come with any normal sport.
What is key in the WHO’s view is that the “gaming disorder” affects only a small proportion of people who engage in digital or video-gaming activities. They say that when gaming is to the exclusion of other daily activities, and the player experiences changes in their physical or psychological health and social functioning, and this is attributed to their pattern of gaming behaviour, then there is something to look at.Sounds like just about anything else. Which begs the question:  is this really about the method of expressing a mental disorder (choosing gaming, soccer, piano, etc over living), or about a genuinely unhappy person merely looking for an outlet or an escape?
I guess we’ll have to wait this one out and hope that the WHO gets to understand the gaming space a little better before making its final decision on the matter.
• Barry Louzada is from Mettlestate, a South African esports authority.

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