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AMA doctors to assess video game addiction

So you think your teenager is addicted to Xbox?

You may be right – and if the prestigious American Medical Association has its way, video game addiction could become a legitimate medical condition.

It may sound like a bunch of hooey to a nation of Wii, Xbox and PlayStation enthusiasts, but next week, at the AMA’s national meeting in Chicago, delegates will vote on a recommendation that “Internet/video game addiction” be classified as a formal diagnosis.

For 160 years, the AMA has made national health recommendations that are quickly adopted. They range from recommending that all cars be equipped with seat belts to calling for annual mammograms for women older than 50.

Not everyone is buying into this new malady, though. Some might compare it to a gambling addiction, but others see this as a lightweight diagnosis, akin to a shopping addiction.

“I’m an addiction skeptic,” said Steve Jones, a communications professor at the University of Illinois and a research fellow with the Pew Internet & American Life Project. “Just because any activity might interfere with other activities is not enough to call it an addiction.”

An AMA report notes that the heaviest game players are those who play MMORPGs – massive multiplayer online role-playing games such as World of Warcraft. Those players, says the AMA, are more likely to be socially isolated – and probably addicted.

Jones, who has studied college students’ use of video games, said American society overreacts to new technology – particularly when it involves children.

He said it started back in the 1920s, when there was hand-wringing about how movies were causing children to spend too much time inside.

“Fast forward, we started to hear the same thing about TV, then about comic books, the same thing about rock `n’ roll, the same thing about rap music and the same thing about the Internet,” Jones said. “It’s just a pattern.”

Technically the AMA vote would only be a first step, because it then would pass the baton to the American Psychiatric Association, which publishes the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the primary handbook used to diagnose mental illnesses and disorders.

The medical community, unlike the virtual community, doesn’t move quickly.

The next edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is due out in 2012.


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