The World Health Organization has a lot on its plate these days. Ebola has made a comeback in central Africa. There are still parts of the world where polio has yet to be rubbed out. Next up for the world’s leading health agency? Um, video games.
The agency has just designated compulsive video gaming as a mental health disorder, adding it to WHO’s official list of medical conditions. WHO officials are calling the malady “Gaming Disorder.”
The goal of the new classification: better awareness among governments, health care providers and families about the risks of compulsive video gaming.
It would be easy to write off the agency’s decision as a nanny-group attempt to slap a label onto behavior that experts deem to be bad for us. Equating late nights on Minecraft with getting hooked on vodka or blackjack? Really?
But underlying the agency’s declaration is an important reminder about addiction.
It’s not that most kids glued to gaming screens suffer from obsessive-compulsive Grand Theft Auto. WHO researchers say gaming disorder would apply to just 3 percent of all video game players.
But no matter what form it takes, an addiction corrodes connections to family, friends, work and much more. With the lure of the display screen so prevalent today, some people lose sight of the richness of life beyond pixels.
That’s why a group of former Silicon Valley software developers and behavioral scientists are urging all of us to focus on “digital wellness.”
The backbone of that effort is the creation of apps that allow users to keep track of their screen time. Many of us might spend less time fixated by our phones if we knew that so much of our day was devoted to scrolling and tapping.
The WHO designation is a cri de coeur to all of us for screen-time vigilance.
The technology already exists to monitor usage of apps, video games and downloads, and to apply parental controls. Like everything else in life, digital wellness asks for moderation. Keep that in mind the next time your Candy Crush session hits the four-hour mark.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE