In June, the World Health Organization declared “gaming disorder" as a new mental health concern in the 11th edition of its International Classification of Diseases. Much has been written about the toxic nature of gaming culture and we all have heard stories of people who died in gaming cafes across Asia mid-game. Part of the problem stems from the vagueness of the term. It doesn’t clarify just how many hours would indicate an addiction, warning instead that a disorder is when “increasing priority [is] given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities.”
I reached out to a few gamers to see what they felt was indicative of a problem. On Reddit, users mostly just attacked the declaration instead of introspecting. So I did some introspection myself, and spoke to a few people in gaming cafés in Delhi on what they felt constituted an addiction.
As a social recluse, I gravitated towards escapism from a young age. I’ve spent many sleepless nights playing games like CS:S or FEAR combat with people from other countries. It was these communities and clans that actually kept me hooked, and kept bringing me back. I’d get together with an American clan on TeamSpeak, talk about random shit, play a round of CS, pass out at 4 AM and barely make it to class on some days.
Even with 300 ping and a 256kbps connection, it was fun, though these “friends” were miles away, and the chance of us ever meeting was next to none. It really took the sting out of adolescence for me.
I realised it had gotten out of hand as I found myself failing classes. I gave up caring about my body, gorging on snacks while playing. Sure, I course corrected, but gaming is still a seasonal thing that I fall back on during my off-time—maybe not as much as before.
This was also the case with Vikhyat Dabas, a 21-year-old engineering student. He's frequented Nexus Gaming, a café based in Delhi's Janakpuri for around two years, but he started his gaming career with DoTA in 6th Standard. He claims to spend around 11 to 12 hours a day gaming, skipping his college classes for it.
"I chose the game and my clan over my girlfriend as they were depending on me and I couldn't let them down."
In his case, Dabas has made gaming an inseparable part of his life. He said his parents "used to bother me a lot before, but since I've started earning a bit of money they've backed off." He makes Rs. 40,000-50,000 a month through gaming, betting and reselling items online. He also claimed to be one of the “top three Steam levels in India" at steam level 333.
Dabas told me that “During my first year in B.Tech, I had a girlfriend and she called me one time and I couldn't talk to her because I was sitting here gaming with my clan playing DoTa 2. She told me to choose between the game and her. I chose the game and my clan as they were depending on me and I couldn't let them down.”
Dabas doesn't think of himself as addict. He told me about another guy who'd been "sitting in Xtreme Gaming [another cafe]—hadn’t been home in two months—just watching game streams and playing LoL.”
At Xtreme Gaming, a 24-hour café, I saw the guy he'd mentioned sprawled across two chairs, watching a twitch stream and gaming. He barely acknowledged my presence. More forthcoming was Abishek*, 21, and a recent graduate who had moved to Noida from Dehradun. He'd been invited by an online friend and it was his first time at this café. He referred to playing 12 hours a day during college, when he would have his breakfast “on the same desk” where he started playing last night. Now it's "more like "3-4 hours a day.” He believes gaming addiction is a problem, but not one he has. He said he was more concerned about the owner of another parlour, Roty's Den. “Ever since he started his own gaming cafe, Rohit’s health hasn’t been particularly great shape.”
Mahesh Patel, 25, is a freelance web-designer who has been going to Xtreme Gaming for four years. He logs roughly 24 hours per week. Though he goes all out on certain days with his clan-mates, to play DoTa 2 or CS:GO. He comes to the café because he "cannot focus while at home. My family members always bother me with house chores as they feel I'm not doing anything productive. There are no distractions here, only gaming for hours on end with friends."
About whether he has a gaming addiction, he simply states—“no matter how much you try to force a healthy substitute, I will gravitate towards chhola bhatura, because it satiates a certain kind of hunger.”