AMA to vote on whether the plunge into excessive play should have its own classification of mental illness.
NOTE: AMA delegates could vote on the proposal as early as Monday.
When Atari’s Space Invaders first came out in 1978, I spent so much time playing that video game a blister formed on my thumb.
The sound effects embedded themselves so deeply in my mind, I could hear them in my sleep.
But my fascination proved fleeting.
I discovered girls. Video games evolved without me.
Almost three decades later, so many people are now so hopelessly plugged into their video games, their obsessive play may spawn a new psychiatric disorder.
A group of doctors within the American Medical Association is suggesting excessive video game play be classified as a unique mental condition. Doing so would raise its profile, codify the affliction in the American Psychiatric Association manual and allow doctors to bill insurance companies for treatment.
What are the perilous signs of this malady?
Kids hiding in their rooms.
Skipping meals and showers.
Hostility and poor schoolwork.
Sounds a bit like adolescence. Maybe that’s a disease, too.
Nine out of 10 kids today play video games. And the AMA says about 5 million — about 15 percent — are so obsessed with these virtual worlds created by gamers that their compulsive play could be an addiction.
If someone is hooked on drugs, booze or cigarettes, chemical changes take place in the brain when the substance enters the body. Some doctors who’ve researched video game compulsions say the energy of video games can have the same effect on the brain of a fervent player — just like compulsive gambling.
But should this defect in impulse control be a disease all its own?
In Amsterdam, there’s a detox center for game-playing kids. Smith & Jones Addiction Consultants created the program because they saw more people — mostly males under 30 — succumbing to their computer-game obsession and ruining their lives, according to WebMD.
They try to disconnect the gamers from their video worlds in the same way doctors try to reconnect morbidly obese food addicts and bone-thin bulimics with healthy eating.
Web sites, such as On-Line Gamers Anonymous, are attracting worried parents and gamers who’ve come to a startling epiphany.
Gamers Anonymous has adopted its own 12 Steps, among them:
Admit to a powerlessness over online gaming; admit life has become unmanageable. (Does that mean you’re not Harry Potter? That thing you ate wasn’t a Bertie Botts booger-flavored bean?)
Believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. (At what level of play do you find this Power? Is he a Level 12 wizard?)
Make a list of all persons harmed, and make amends to them all. (Does this include the dozens of pimps, prostitutes, gangbangers and pedestrians you offed in Grand Theft Auto 3?)
Decide to turn your will and your life over to the care of God. (You hit life’s reset button.)
As tempting as it may be to poke fun at this modern-day malady and claim the head shrinkers are exaggerating the problem, a significant body of research already suggests violent video games subconsciously feed aggressive and antisocial behavior.
Video games do affect the mind.
The key question is, should the good doctors create an entirely new category of mental disorder for this particular addiction? If they do, what does it say for personal responsibility? Does it let off the hook those parents who plug in a GameCube or an Xbox and forget about their child?
Ours is an addiction-laden culture. People can become hooked on anything, whether it’s a substance or an activity — television, sweets, liquor, plastic surgery, sex.
Video games are just as intense as any of these. Some are so involved they seem like an entirely different world. And children are falling in. Parents are turning to doctors for aid. We shouldn’t dismiss what these games have wrought.
But obsessive video gaming already seems to fit any number of diagnoses that speak to the underlying frailties that enslave kids and young adults to these games.
A new name isn’t needed for a new version of an old problem.