An American Medical Assn. committee meeting in Chicago to consider its future public health agenda asked its policymaking body Sunday to determine whether to support adding video game addiction to a key handbook on mental illness.
Testimony at the AMA annual meeting seemed to favor deferring to the American Psychiatric Assn., which will make the final call as it writes a new edition of a diagnostic manual for mental health professionals.
Sunday's debate at the AMA centered on whether enough science was available to classify excessive video game playing as an addiction and whether the organization should advocate an outright classification as an addiction or push for limits on game playing such as one to two hours of "total daily screen time."
The psychiatric group will decide the issue over the next five years. It could determine whether doctors determine medications or treatments for excessive gaming and whether employers or insurers pay for coverage as they might for alcohol or drug dependency.
Other groups urged the AMA to back down from declaring excessive video game playing an addiction, saying such activity is problematic but more a societal issue than a medical problem.
"If you are not putting time into hobbies and interests, [life] would be pretty boring," said Dr. Stuart Gitlow, an AMA delegate representing the American Society of Addiction Medicine. "If it wasn't an addiction with baseball, model trains and cars, then it isn't with video games."
Other doctors told the AMA there may even be health advantages to gaming, citing studies showing benefits for children with autism. Benefits for Alzheimer's disease patients are also being studied.
The message board at the website for On-Line Gamers Anonymous is filled with stories about people whose lives have been changed by games.
"I don't want to admit that I messed up my first 2 years of college with games, I mean, I passed," one poster wrote. "But what if those C's and B's were A's?"
Liz Woolley founded On-Line Gamers Anonymous after her son killed himself because of his obsession with the fantasy role-playing game "EverQuest." Her priority is "to educate parents that these games are addictive." Parents, she said, should know that their child could be getting up in the middle of the night to play, without them knowing.