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Gaming junkies get no diagnosis

ENTERTAINMENT

June 28, 2007|Alex Pham | Times Staff Writer

Video-game buffs might feel hooked on their favorite titles, but they won't be officially addicted anytime soon.

Saying the issue needed more study, the American Medical Assn. on Wednesday scaled back a controversial proposal that sought to declare excessive video-game playing a mental disorder akin to pathological gambling.

The association also decided against urging parents to limit to two hours a day the amount of time their kids play video games, watch television and surf the Internet.

"While more study is needed on the addictive potential of video games, the AMA remains concerned about the behavioral, health and societal effects of video-game and Internet overuse," Dr. Ronald M. Davis, the association's president, said in a statement from its annual meeting in Chicago. "We urge parents to closely monitor their children's use of video games and the Internet."

The 250,000-member physician organization drew national headlines last week by pressing forward on a proposal to "strongly encourage" that video-game addiction be labeled a formal disorder. The proposal would have asked the American Psychiatric Assn. to consider including "video-game addiction as a formal diagnostic disorder" in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, considered by experts to be the authoritative handbook on mental illness.

Instead, the medical association Wednesday removed the word "addiction" and decided to simply forward its report expressing concerns about "video-game overuse" to the psychiatric group, which is revising its mental-health manual.

Maressa Hecht Orzack, director of the computer-addiction studies center at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., said the word choice was irrelevant.

"The fact is, it's a behavior that's out of control," Orzack said, noting that some of her patients have trouble with school, work and their relationships because of their game-playing habits. "Whether you call it addiction, overuse or excessive use, it's the same thing. It's a condition that interferes with a person's mental health."

But some in the video-game industry, including the Entertainment Software Assn., were pleased with the toned-down language. The trade group for the $30-billion game industry "supports mental-health experts, the APA and others within the AMA who agree that it would be premature to conclude that video-game 'addiction' is a mental disorder," said Michael Gallagher, its president.

Industry executives were less happy with another recommendation in the report approved Wednesday: The physicians' organization plans to lobby the Federal Trade Commission to improve the current voluntary video-game rating system, which is now run by the industry-funded Entertainment Software Rating Board.

"We would like to see a ratings system that better alerts parents to the content of the video game and recommended age of the player, so they can decide whether or not their child should be playing it," the AMA's Davis said.

The board defended its system, which assigns ratings based on the level of violence or sexual innuendo in games.

The medical group's proposal to review the ratings system "seems to disregard the fact that the vast majority of parents are satisfied with the ESRB ratings and use them regularly to choose games for their children," ratings board President Patricia Vance said in a statement.

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alex.pham@latimes.com

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