Video Game Addiction (Understanding The Diagnosis)

So, I’m a Psychology major, and I am also a Game Developer.

I’ve been in this industry since 2010. I have worked alongside EA Games producers and I have done tours of guest speaking engagements about video game immersion and aggression. I have manipulated the curriculums of multimedia design schools, focusing on incorporating business and vocation into their efforts.

With all of that in mind, two things are obviously fact:

1) I’m awesome, and

2) This is an industry I know, and I also know psychology.

Gaming Addiction Diagnosed

I’ve come across a World Health Organization “update” on their 2018 revision on the qualifications for “Gaming Addiction.” This was done in the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases, i.e. ICD-11, back in September of 2018. I will not bore the masses with a quote of the actual diagnosis. I will instead summarize. Gaming addiction qualifies as a diagnosis when someone is engaging in video gaming that results in a lack of “life quality.” This means that it interferes with your daily functioning, and thus is considered a disease.

True Addiction

Taking us down a nostalgic walk back to 2013 when the idea of addiction was deemed as a disease, I wish to quote a peer-reviewed article on the diagnosis of “what a disease is:”

Addiction is self-acquired and is not transmissible, contagious, autoimmune, hereditary, degenerative or traumatic. Treatment consists of little more than stopping a given behavior. True diseases worsen if left untreated. A patient with cancer is not cured if locked in a cell, whereas an alcoholic is automatically cured. No access to alcohol means no alcoholism. A person with schizophrenia will not remit if secluded. Sepsis will spread and Parkinson disease will worsen if left untreated. Criminal courts do not hand down verdicts of “not guilty by virtue of mental illness” to drunk drivers who kill pedestrians.

Gaming addiction? Pleeeeaaassseee! Courtesy of
Gaming addiction? Pleeeeaaassseee! Courtesy of


Can we then correlate gaming addiction as any different? Nope…

Dopamine’s Role

What I love about the concept of gaming addiction (and drug addiction) is, it is all chemical. When you play a video game, your brain releases a surge of chemicals. One of those chemicals is called “dopamine.” Why gaming releases this neurotransmitter is not yet understood. It is a chemical released to promote survival. When you eat, you are provided dopamine to reward you for eating. When you sleep, your mind rewards you with dopamine for giving you a much-needed rest.

And when you play a video game, and you get a 5-player kill streak, dopamine is released.


Why? We do not know. Gaming immersion is a topic I studied for years and I still do not fully understand why something unrelated to survival is performed by the body. However, take the game: World of Warcraft. Actually, take just about any game. The goal is to survive, right? Is it possible that dopamine factored its way into gaming because it simulates a world where you are doing nothing but surviving? I have spoken with many CoD players in recent years, and they all claim “a rush when playing.” This “rush” is adrenaline, which is also meant for survival purposes.

What the heck is going on here on a scientific level?

In turn, until it can be understood why dopamine plays a part in video gaming (and if it is actually insufficient enough of an amount to categorize it as addiction), there is no formal association between addiction and video games.

Though It Has Killed Before…

That said, it does not mean we have not already seen the warning signs. Many gamers in recent years have found themselves lost in the thrusts of their favorite game. Fortnite and Overwatch reinvented (perhaps even created) the formality of gaming impeding with daily life. However, as much as I know about the DVS Gaming community (of which is strongly represented by WoW players, so sorry to burst your bubble), World of Warcraft was the first game where someone – literally – died from playing.

In 2015, a player who still goes by the name of “Player A” died after 19 hours of playing WoW. The autopsy articulated that his death was caused by “dehydration, lack of sleep, and a seizure that occurred after those two factors combined with the LED screen he used to play on.” This death was caused by video games. Unfortunately, it would not be the last case.

This has happened to even the best of us...Courtesy of Wccftech
This has happened to even the best of us…Courtesy of Wccftech

In 2017 a live-stream gamer became the second casualty. He got up for a smoke break and was found 9 hours later, dead from exhaustion. How does this all play a part in “gaming addiction,” and what am I trying to prove here?

Don’t Be Ashamed

Face facts: gaming is a choice. So is drug addiction. For as many people who say drug addiction is actually not a disease, the same is true about gaming addiction. Though it interferes with life, it does not qualify as a disease.

In conclusion, comment, share, like, hate, ignore. I did my job for today, which was to educate a community. Your job is to realize that there is no shame in playing too much and to rethink the knowledge learned in this article to dismantle future diagnoses you may experience.