Have you ever felt that you are addicted to a game and can’t put it down? Or have you heard someone say in passing that they are addicted to playing games on a digital screen but dismissed this as braggadocio or a display of over-concern?

Well, it may be time to change our attitude. On Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) added gaming disorder to its latest draft of the International Classification of Diseases, a highly regarded compendium of medical conditions.

The global online gaming industry generates more revenue than television, movies or the music industry, a June 2018 report by global asset management firm OppenheimerFunds said. In 2017, the gaming industry’s revenue stood at $109 billion, 42% of it from mobile titles, London-based venture capital firm Atomico said in a report. In comparison, Hollywood recorded a worldwide box office revenue of $40 billion in 2017, according to a report by the Motion Picture Association of America, the lobby that represents the six biggest movie studios.

In India, the online gaming industry is estimated to be the highest growth sector in the media and entertainment industry, with an average growth rate of 27.5% between 2016 and 2020 compared to the overall industry’s 11.6% for the same period, according to a March 2018 report by industry association Ficci and consulting firm EY. It is already bigger than radio and the music industry in terms of revenue.

Globally, eSports, short for electronic sports, a digital media format where virtual game-play is monetised as video content and streamed in a fashion similar to football matches, is a multi-billion dollar industry on a par with field sports such as football and basketball.

In India, ESL premiership, an eSports tournament by Gurugram-based NODWIN Gaming Pvt Ltd, a gaming solutions company, offers a prize money of Rs1 crore and is televised on Dsport TV channel.

The industry is attracting serious investors. In December, ace investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala picked up a minority stake in WestBridge Capital-backed Nazara Technologies Ltd, a mobile games publisher. Earlier this year, Nazara acquired a 55% stake in NODWIN. Even serial entrepreneur and former UTV head Ronnie Screwvala has thrown his hat into the ring, with the launch of an eSports league—UCypher—in January.

Gaming is not kid’s play. It’s young adults who spend more time gaming online than kids. The average age of gamers in India is 24 years, and globally it is 25 years, according to a Ficci and EY report.

These young adults represent a generation that is growing up with screens in their hands. Worldwide, youths aged between 15 and 24 are the most connected age group. About 71% of this demographic is online, compared with 48% of the total population, according to a December 2017 report by United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef).

Moreover, kids are going online at even younger ages—as young as three. Children and adolescents under 18 account for an estimated one in three internet users around the world, said the Unicef study.

So, how do you define gaming addiction? Why has the WHO singled out online gaming as a behavioural disorder when today there are all kinds of addictions like food, shopping, sex and work? Is the online gaming disorder comparable to drug addiction? How do we address it? How serious is this ailment?

To start with, gaming disorder is characterised by a pattern of persistent or recurrent “gaming behaviour"—digital gaming or video gaming, which may be online or offline—the WHO manual said. The condition is still very rare, with less than 3% of all gamers believed to be affected, the agency said.

Playing games is not all bad. Frequent gamers might be better at switching attention and keeping track of a lot of information than those who reported less daily gaming, the Unicef study said.

All the same, these preliminary steps are important. Today, as we live in an increasingly digital world, the influence of technology on our real lives can’t be ignored. The WHO designation is a call to start having meaningful conversations.

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