This is one of the counterpoints that gaming-disorder detractors often raise. What about people who dance to excess, or become obsessed with tanning parlors, or while away hours tapping and swiping on Instagram, or even those who read novels—the source of a moral panic in the 18th century—or watch football to the detriment of their social and work lives? If the purpose of the DSM or ICD is to help people, and if only a very small percentage of gamers (or dancers, or tanners, or Instagrammers, or novel-readers, or football fans) are compelled to the point of pathological overuse, and if what is pathological in the first place is subjective, then why not create a broader Behavioral Overuse Disorder that could apply to anything, without prejudice?
When I pose the question to Christopher Ferguson, he agrees that the diagnostic standard bodies are cherry-picking their targets of concern. “If who had been around 100 years ago, maybe we would have been talking about telephone addiction instead,” Ferguson says. “When society rapidly adopts technology, it makes people anxious. A narrative that we’re using them too much emerges. People were worried that the telephone would change behavior—reduce letter writing, for example—and they were right! Culture did change!” But then or now, that doesn’t mean that the people who pursue those activities are necessarily pathological.