Internet gaming addiction in China – mental disorder or bad habit?

With China set to overcome the US as the largest online gaming market, a group of Korean scientists set out to answer the question – is addiction to internet gaming in China a biomedical sickness or just a bad habit?

Any given Chinese city is rife with internet cafes filled with gamers, usually young males in their late teens or 20s, who spend hours stuffed in dark, smoke-filled rooms playing games like World of Warcraft, League of Legends or one of thousands of Chinese titles.

Reports about people dying after 3 to 4 day gaming marathons have become grimly commonplace in Chinese headlines. In late January, a teen cut off his own hand in order to ‘cure’ his internet addiction

While many agree that internet gaming addiction can be a problem, very little research exists to define, diagnosis or properly treat potentially life-threatening cases.

Internet gaming disorder was listed in the  Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the widely-accepted authority on mental disorders, for the first time in 2013, with the authors concluding it was a “condition for further study”.

Heading the call, researchers from the Sociology Department at Ewha Womans University in Seoul took the first step toward the question in China – is it a mental disorder or simple a societal problem?

Interviewing gamers and collecting related research, the team etched an outline of their participants “social existence” and compared it to the DSM definition of mental disorder.

The study concluded internet gaming addiction does not fully meet the qualifications of a mental disorder, but instead rests on the individual.

“We discover not a clearly understood mental disorder called Internet Gaming Disorder’ but more so an issue of social deviance,” the study, “Internet Gaming Disorder” in China Biomedical Sickness or Sociological Badness?, said.

It was published online at Sage Journals in January 27.