By Stan Pierre-Louis, Chief Executive Officer, Entertainment Software Association
I recently had the chance to speak at the annual DICE Conference, where I had the pleasure of discussing where video games are heading in 2019 with some of the most intrepid leaders in our industry. It was also an opportunity to reflect on the challenges our industry faces and how we’re working to address them.
One of those challenges is the proposal by the World Health Organization (WHO) to classify certain levels of video game use as a mental disorder — which they call “gaming disorder” and many in the media are calling “video game addiction.” The term “addiction” is used colloquially by a lot of people. But we have to be careful about tossing it around casually, because it’s a term that carries serious medical import.
That’s why mental health experts who study this issue at world-class institutions like Johns Hopkins University and Oxford University warn, over and over, that creating some kind of “video gaming addiction” classification isn’t supported by the evidence and that it puts patients at risk. In fact, the American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association, and the American Psychological Association have each reviewed the evidence and declined to describe any level of video game use as an “addiction” or as a “disorder.”
None of this should suggest that those struggling with mental health, compulsive disorders, or other challenges should not seek the treatment they need. It’s common sense that anything done in excess can have negative consequences. It’s crucial to note, however, that there is no medical consensus that excessive video game play as described by the WHO is actually an underlying cause of mental illness, rather than a symptom. We need to be careful not to ignore or divert resources and attention from these underlying issues by fixating on video games.
The WHO has done great work to promote public health, and we assume the same good intent in this case. But in addition to going against the scientific consensus, its proposal downplays some very real unintended consequences. First, formalizing a link between video games and addiction could lead to harmful regulations that negatively impact access to games, even in cases where they have therapeutic value. Second, it risks stigmatizing the overwhelming majority of the world’s 2.6 billion gamers who enjoy video games as part of a well-rounded, healthy lifestyle.
A misstep here could erode many of the positive effects video games have in our society. What the WHO overlooks is that video games are fun, educational, and increasingly therapeutic. For example, video games help cancer patients cope with confusion and treatment-related side effects. Doctors are seeing impressive results among Alzheimer’s patients who play video games. In the education space, teachers use video games as tools to develop literacy skills among children with dyslexia and other learning challenges. The game Minecraft: Education Edition has been used by 35 million teachers worldwide for interactive lessons in science, math, history, language, and art.
The video game industry also goes to great lengths to help consumers, especially parents, make video games a positive and healthy part of their lives. As one example, all consoles have password-protected parental controls, giving parents the ability to control time spent playing video games. In addition, the Entertainment Software Rating Board, or ESRB, provides parents with the information they need to decide what games are appropriate for their children based on their age and a number of other factors.
We know that the systems in place are working. In fact, 86 percent of parents with children who play video games are aware of the ESRB ratings, 75 percent of parents place limits on how their children play video games, and 70 percent of parents believe video games have a positive influence on their children’s lives.
Our industry cares deeply about the health and wellbeing of every video game player across the globe. We are committed to engaging with consumers and policymakers to promote digital wellness. And whether you’re a developer, publisher, or one of the billions across the globe who simply love video games and the positive impact they have on our world, you can play an important role.
Help us in telling all the incredible stories of how video games make a difference in our lives. Connect with your political representatives and make your voice heard. Let them know the science is clear on video games, and that it’s important we listen to the consensus from the experts and address this the right way. If we work together to make this message come through loud and clear, there’s no limit to how much good the video game industry and video games can do in our communities and around the world.