CHICAGO (Reuters)- The American Medical Association called for more research into the public health risks of video and Internet games on Wednesday but stopped short of declaring them addictive.
The AMA, which recommended a review of the current video game rating system, also said it would leave it up to the American Psychiatric Association and other experts to decide whether video game addiction should be designated a mental illness.
“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,” said AMA president Dr. Ronald Davis.
The AMA also wants more study on the effectiveness of the video game ratings system, which has not been updated since 1994. Davis said research has linked exposure to media violence with increased aggressive behavior.
The AMA’s debate over video game addiction at the group’s annual meeting touched a nerve among doctors, who are not sure what to tell patients and worried parents.
“To the extent that a game is controlling someone’s behaviors and taking over their daily life, then you are talking about a compulsive use, whether you categorize it in a psychiatric manual or not,” Davis told reporters at a news briefing.
Dr. Timothy Fong, a psychiatrist at the University of California at Los Angeles who specializes in addiction, said video games could be a problem for some.
“Anything in the world can be addictive if you have that biological vulnerability to develop an addiction,” he said in a telephone interview.
“This is a brain disease for a very small percentage of kids, but not all kids can become addicted to video games.”
Fong said there needs to be more empirical research into the effects of video games, especially on children.
“Otherwise, we are just spouting out myths and stereotypes,” he said.
Addiction experts strongly opposed a push earlier this week at the AMA’s annual meeting to declare video game addiction a mental illness and recommend its inclusion in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Fong said parents should be involved in what their children are playing, because different children experience games differently.
He compared two adolescents he recently saw, one with a games problem. “His grades are suffering. He is trying to hide his game play from his parents,” Fong said.
The other boy plays sports as well as video games and has “a wonderful home life.” “He has other interests,” Fong said. “That is someone who does not have an addiction.”
Michael Gallagher, president of the Entertainment Software Association, which represents the $30 billion global video game industry, said the group understands parents’ concerns.
“Our industry encourages consumers to enjoy games just as they do any other leisure activity: responsibly and in moderation as part of a well-rounded, well-adjusted lifestyle,” he said.