ENVI I

Gaming-addiction-has-been-officially-recognized-as-a-mental-health-disorder

Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety I (ENVI I)

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?

lazaros

Lazaros Hadjforados (CY)

Topic at a Glance

Captions
Hi there, welcome to the Committee of ENVI I! This committee looks into the topic of gaming addiction and explores two opposing sides. Firstly, on how videogames can become addictive and how the European Union can prevent the increasing prevalence of video game addiction. The other side is looking into the benefits of video games in terms of improving cognitive and intellectual skills and how these can be used as means of improving learning and educational systems in essence. Therefore by looking at those two opposing sides we are trying to find a balance between how the EU can harness the benefits of video games as well as prevent the ongoing occurrence of compulsive gaming in Europe.

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.

What is gaming disorder? (Northpoint Staff, 2018)

Context

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.

Number of active video gamers worldwide from 2015 - 2023 (Clement, 2021)
Share of gamers among the whole population by age group (Nesterenko, 2018)

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.

The differences between gamification and game-based learning (Microsoft, 2021)
The differences between gamification and game-based learning (Microsoft, 2021)

Topic Analysis

Individual

There is a plethora of evidence highlighting the benefits of video gaming on the individual. They vary from improving cognitive skills to relieving stress. Besides, video games enable social connection en ease any feelings of loneliness, especially amid COVID-19 lockdowns. However, excessive video gaming can become addictive, and if it persists, it can have detrimental effects on an individual’s well-being. The reason is that compulsive gaming involves the prioritisation of gaming over everything else, including self-care. Because of the neglect of adequate hygiene, sleep, exercise and diet, video game addiction may decrease an individual’s cognitive ability and, over time, causes them to feel disconnected and desensitised from their surroundings. Worst of all, neglecting self-care increases the risk of burnout, which is an indicator of poor physical and mental health. Long-term video game addiction can have academic, occupational and financial negative consequences involved. Video games and their equipment can be costly, especially when factoring in recurring costs such as the high-speed Internet connection and in-game microtransactions. These games can also be very time-consuming, leaving addicted gamers with less time to focus on their education or career.

National

In education, game-based learning and gamification can enhance student engagement by making the learning experience more interactive and enjoyable. The utilisation of video games in learning can accommodate different learning styles, developing confidence as they encourage students to get more involved with their learning. Regardless, society’s view of video games is not the most positive. The addition of gaming addiction in the ICD-11 could exacerbate society’s already general negative attitude towards video games. Consequently, the combined limited evidence en lack of awareness and understanding about compulsive gaming can create tension between the general public and the gamers community, potentially leading to social segregation and discrimination.

European

Currently, most European education systems are maladapted to the fast pace of current technology and are not fit to support young people in becoming active, self-actualised and responsible citizens. Studies have shown that video games can help students become self-actualised by guiding them to understand their needs. Therefore, reforming the educational systems by introducing game-based learning or gamification could better motivate today’s youth and help them achieve self-actualisation.

International

The inclusion of compulsive gaming in the ICD-11 has sparked an international debate as to whether the condition is a legitimate mental health disorder or not. The reason is that several international experts believe that video game addiction may be a symptom of another underlying condition. The lack of a scientific consensus and diagnostic controversy of gaming addiction stems from the limited research being carried out and the lack of a single accepted standard of symptoms. Therefore, if the experts are correct, misclassification of these unidentified problems as compulsive gaming would result in a potential false diagnosis and poorer treatment outcomes for the patient.

The benefits of gamification in e-learning (E-learning infographics, 2016)

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?