Yep, we're having this discussion again. The National Health Service here in the UK (well, the English bit of it) have decided it's time to do something about all these pesky kids with their gaming addictions. Farewell, Fortnite. Catch you later, Call Of Duty. Through a new Centre for Internet and Gaming Disorders, young kids can now be referred for specialist treatment to curb their videogame habits.
Cards on the table, I'm not so sure I agree with sending kids to the doctors over claims of gaming addiction. To be honest, I'm sure there are times when my own folks would've killed for such a service, such were my borderline obsessive tendencies around game consumption. Still, I like to think I turned out alright in the end without medical intervention.
Do not, under any circumstances, "@" me.
Kids these days (don't say that Nat, you're not old yet) have a more dangerous media landscape to navigate, of course. With all those loot boxes and gambling mechanics and pervasive social pressures going around, being online in games in 2019 can do things to a person's head. Educating on the realities of our modern online landscape has become increasingly important.
But it's the World Health Organisation's decision to name gaming disorder in its International Classification of Diseases that seems to have pushed the NHS's hand.
The new Centre for Internet and Gaming Disorders, part of the National Centre for Behavioural Addictions, has been launched to purportedly help "children and young adults" deal with symptoms associated with the WHO's classification, including:
"Impaired control over gaming, increased priority to gaming and continuation or escalation of gaming despite negative consequences – such as the impact on relationships, social life, studying and work life or spiralling financial costs."
Like any currently serviced addiction, GPs will be free to refer young people to the service for help managing uncontrollable behaviours around gaming. It's no huge surprise that, while possibly coincidental, the new service is located alongside the National Problem Gambling Clinic.
But while treating the symptoms is all fine and dandy, NHS chief executive Simon Stevens lamented the idea of the NHS being solely left to "pick up the pieces" on gaming addicts. He urged gambling and gaming companies look at systems that discourage, monitor or outright halt extended gaming sessions, pointing to existing examples in Korea, China and Japan.
"Many countries are grappling with the issue of gaming and internet addiction. In South Korea, the government has introduced a law banning access for children under 16 from online games between midnight and 06:00."
"In Japan, players are alerted if they spend more than a certain amount of time each month playing games and in China, internet giant Tencent has limited the hours that children can play its most popular games."
Parliament's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee recently called for the games industry to chip in with research into "problem gaming".
I'd like to think this comes from a place of good faith. The internet - and gaming as a subset of that - is an increasingly complex, confusing, and terrifying place. It's only reasonable to guess that young folk can face increasing mental distress over the expectations it demands, and the addictions contemporary games build into their core design.
Look. I'm not a doctor. I am in no way qualified to suggest a course of treatment for a kid who consistently retreats into games. But mental health care in this country is already an absolutely piss-poor state, and I'd be hard-pressed to say this helps in any way.
To be a pedant for a moment, the only reality I see coming of this is parents putting their kids on a two-year waiting list to get their GTA habits under control - all while further stretching an already paper-thin facet of the NHS.