Video game addiction debated

It's safe to say: the gaming world has never been so competitive.

Esports are expected to bring in a billion dollars this year with professional leagues drawing large crowds, colleges and even high schools forming their own teams, and everyday players turning into celebrities as viewers tune in to watch them play on Twitch.

Need more evidence? Just last weekend, a 16 year-old banked $3 million winning the Fortnite World Cup in front of a massive, cheering crowd.  With money, fame, and even career possibilities out there it's understandable that players would be going harder and playing longer to reach the top.  However, experts say that can be a problem.

"We've had kids quit like their swim club or kids peeing in a bottle because they don't want to get up to go to the bathroom; they don't want to miss out," said addiction counselor Jim West.

West said his practice, Total Life Counseling in Orlando gets a lot of clients struggling with the balance between gaming and life.  West, not shy about calling it addiction.

"I probably talk about it 2 to 3 hours a day in my appointments," he said.

Addiction specialists all over the place are raising concerns about gaming addiction these days, and they're getting some serious back-up.

The World Health Organization announced they plan to add ‘gaming disorder' to their list of recognized mental health disorders; going into effect in 2022. On the group's website, they acknowledge it only effects a small number of gamers, but that it can have serious negative consequences in those people's lives.

They classify the problem as impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.

Despite the big-named backing on this though: the classification of video game addiction is a controversial one that many disagree with.

Video game expert and Stetson University Psychologist Dr. Chris Ferguson said he's seen a clear generational gap on the topic: older scholars in favor of the classification and younger ones against it. He said many other internationally known health organizations have stopped short of making an official call on this one.

"Even the American Psychiatric Association yet hasn't followed along; they don't believe there's enough evidence quite yet," said Dr. Ferguson.

He himself isn't sold either.  Ferguson said in his studies, obsessive gaming tends to be a symptom of a larger problem like depression, stress, anxiety, and other disorders.

"Like with depression, a lot of people over-sleep, and we wouldn't say they have a bed addiction," said Ferguson. "This is really the first time a hobby is being labeled as a mental health diagnosis."

Ferguson said he, and others who study video games closely also worry that the hobby is being used as a sort of scapegoat, the day's popular social issue to blame for bigger problems. He worries that the classification will just bring negative light to gamers who do play responsibly.

"Probably about 1 percent or less of gamers have some issues with regulating it, but that's true for a lot of activities, so like shopping, exercise, there are research papers on dance addiction, which is fascinating to me," said Ferguson.

While Ferguson feels the topic needs more research, he says that doesn't mean gamers or their families should ignore signs of a potential problem.  West said he encourages families to follow recommended guidelines to keep gaming under control.

"It's not bad to play games, however how much you play can be too much," said West.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children ages 2-5 be limited to an hour of screen time each day and children older than that be limited; making sure media consumption doesn't replace other behaviors essential to health and wellbeing.