No Game, No Life: With the World Health Organisation recently recognising compulsive gaming as a mental health disorder, how can the EU harness the benefits of video games in supporting learning and developing cognitive skills while combating video gaming addiction?
Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety I (ENVI I)
Lazaros Hadjforados (CY)
Topic at a Glance
Video games are a viral leisure-time activity with more than two billion users worldwide. However, there is an increase in video gaming addiction prevalence. Meanwhile, evidence indicates a positive side to video gaming, particularly in bettering learning and cognition. Therefore, the EU needs to find ways to both utilise the benefits of video games whilst preventing the increase in compulsive gaming prevalence.
Video games are vastly popular among adolescents and young adults as entertainment, and the amount of hours spent playing video games has increased rapidly. In 2020 alone, 2.6 billion people actively played video games, and for 2023, the numbers are expected to reach up to 3.07 billion.
However, the world of video gaming is not just fun and games. Video gaming can pose significant risks to a person’s mental health. In June 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognised compulsive gaming as a diagnosable mental health disorder, including it in the 11th edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11).
Nevertheless, a research from 2016 revealed that video games could be a great learning tool in improving children’s social and intellectual skills. Video games as pedagogical support showed that they could significantly impact children’s cognitive skills development such as memory, attention, and decision-making. This shows how much value video games can offer beyond pure entertainment. Therefore, the EU is faced with a challenge in finding a balance between protecting its citizens’ welfare against compulsive gaming and harnessing video games’ benefits in improving learning and cognition.
Relevant Policy Measures and Legal Framework
Video game addiction
According to Articles 4, 6 and 168 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), the EU holds a shared competence in public health together with the Member States. European Commission has set the EU Agenda and Action Plan on Drugs 2021-2025. The action plan sets out a political framework and action priorities to better coordinate the EU’s fight against drug addiction. In his answer to a parliamentary question at the European Parliament in 2018, the former Health Commissioner Andriukaitis stated that any measures to prevent and treat any form of behavioural addictions such as video game addiction are completely the Member States’ responsibility. The European Commission complements the Member States’ efforts to tackle compulsive gaming by taking on a supportive role.
A key task that the EU has undertaken is studying gaming addiction. In January 2019, the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) published the study on Harmful Internet use to support the Member States further. The study reviews the current scientific literature around internet-use-related addiction, including online compulsive gaming at an EU level. The EPRS also created an Options Brief to complement the study. It provides a set of policy options and preventative measures to advise the Member States of future actions to combat gaming addiction.
There are multiple efforts towards building best practices in tackling video game addiction. The Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE) of the European Commission supported Adocare, which was a project that conducted research and assessed problems adolescents could encounter when dealing with new technology, including gaming. Adocare provided the Member States with preparatory actions to reduce compulsive gaming. The DG SANTE has also launched the Best Practice Portal to exchange best practices between the Member States. The portal’s objective is to support them in meeting the WHO Targets on Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs). The database focuses on health promotion, disease prevention and management of NCDs, including compulsive gaming.
Video games as pedagogical support
The process of integrating gamification and game-based learning methods into the Member States’ education systems is up to themselves to decide, as according to Articles 6 and 165 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), the EU holds a supporting competence in education and thus cannot enforce laws in the area.
Multiple obstacles prevent the Member States from reforming their education system. These challenges range from high costs to the current education policies lacking adequate ways to evaluate teachers performance. Currently, only a handful of Member States actively utilise gamification and game-based learning as part of their education system. For example, Finland has an artificial intelligence application called Eduten, which considers each student’s individual needs and abilities, enabling teachers to deliver personalised support and learning, making lessons more effective and flexible.
Finally, several non-governmental and non-profit organisations are attempting to promote video games’ induction as pedagogical support. For example, the European Schoolnet launched the Games in Schools project, which explores the challenges and opportunities offered by integrating games into teaching and learning.
Further Research and Questions
Playing video games is an enjoyable and popular leisure activity. Yet, it is not a complete substitute for actual life experiences and social interaction. When gaming is prioritised over the offline world, it may be time to take a step back and reconsider their priorities. Likewise, attempting to empathise with a gamer could shed some light on the underpinnings of choosing to isolate themselves in the video gaming world. Finally, celebrating the benefits, refuting all misconceptions, and being open to incorporating gaming in learning will significantly boost education quality and help everyone have a healthier relationship with gaming.
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of the WHO’s decision to include compulsive gaming as a diagnosable mental health condition?
- Who should be accountable for the increasing prevalence of video game addiction, and why?
- Considering the existing research showing video games’ significant positive impact on learning and cognition, how can Member States best utilise those qualities whilst minimising the incidence of video game addiction?
- Which disciplines do you believe are best suited for game-based learning and gamification? How could those aspects be used to modify the education systems, and what would the students have to gain from it?