'How gaming almost ruined my life'
The World Health Organisation has concluded that gaming addiction should be classified as a mental disorder
At 17, Jason Pillai bunked school as often as twice a week to play video games at a friend’s house. At 23, he was dismissed from his job at a Durban retail store after he snuck off to wage war across the galaxy.
In less than three months, Pillai’s addiction to gaming will be classified as a “clinically recognisable and clinically significant syndrome” in the 11th edition of the International Classification of Diseases.
The World Health Organisation has concluded that gaming behaviour, which results in “marked distress or significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational and occupational functioning”, must be recognised as a health condition.
WHO spokesman Tarik Jašarević told Time Select the classification would allow medical practitioners around the world to diagnose and treat gaming disorders.In his matric year, Pillai’s mother took him to the family’s general practitioner.
“My mother felt that I was anti-social and was worried that I would fail because I preferred gaming to school and family time. I was referred to a psychologist but I didn’t take it seriously,” he said.
But reality hit home when he lost his job last year due to his addiction to StarCraft, a best-selling video game.
“The store was not busy. Other staff were around. I didn’t think it was a big thing to sneak away.
“During the disciplinary hearing, I was shocked by what was being said about me. My manager said I was always late because of gaming and that I spoke about gaming more than anything else. I was called anti-social again.”
Plettenberg Bay's Oasis Addictions Treatment Centre’s counsellor Frank De Gouveia treated seven gaming addicts in the past year.
“I would say on average it’s been about four a year. All of them have been between the ages of 20 and 40, and I’ve only ever treated one female gamer in my 15 years’ experience as a counsellor,” he said.
Gaming addicts sacrifice real-life relationships, other past time activities, work, education and socialising.“Whatever South Africa’s population of gamers is, you can expect around 3% will be addicted, depending on the exact criteria used for classification, and will have mounting problems in their family, school, work or social lives.”
De Gouveia said the classification would also allow patients to claim for treatment from medical aid schemes.
According to Colin Webster of Mind Sports South Africa, gaming addiction in South Africa was not common.
“In my experience, those that do become addicted to gaming are not the highly disciplined sports athletes, nor the casual gamers that play from time-to-time, but is often due to people, who are susceptible to addiction, being left to their own devices without having suitable controls in place,” he said.
He said far greater research had to be done in the field and the public should not demonise gaming.