The American Medical Association warned the public yesterday about the potential dangers of video-game addiction, but rejected a call from a Maryland physicians group and other doctors to declare the condition a formal medical disorder.
Instead, the national doctors' group urged more formal research into the impact of video game use and called for a review of the video game ratings system.
"We would like to find out exactly what this is, what it does, its harms and even its benefits," said Dr. Martin Wasserman, executive director of MedChi, the Maryland State Medical Association.
MedChi helped bring the issue before the AMA's annual conference in Chicago this week after a former president of the Maryland group became concerned about patients so addicted to video games that they were unable to live a normal life, Wasserman said.
The Maryland group spearheaded an effort to make video-game addiction a formal diagnosis, but Wasserman said the lack of formal research into the problem made that step problematic. Still, the anecdotal evidence convinced members that some action was necessary.
"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 Dr. Ronald M. Davis, AMA president. "We urge parents to closely monitor their children's use of video games and the Internet."
Seventy percent to 90 percent of American youth play video games, according to testimony the AMA considered, and the group has asked the American Psychological Association and other relevant medical societies to study the issue formally so that definite conclusions can be drawn.
Wasserman said doctors have found that young men who play multi-user games such as World of Warcraft are particularly susceptible to addiction.
"They start to get their realities from the game," he said. "If you go online, you can find World of Warcraft widows."
The addiction debate was started by Dr. Thomas Allen, a Towson psychiatrist and former MedChi president. Allen and other doctors treat video-game addiction as they would gambling or any other addiction, by setting restrictions and boundaries.
Originally, video-game addiction was found among men in their 30s. That is rapidly changing, said Wasserman, as children are introduced to video games at earlier ages.
"We're seeing it younger and younger ... and it can be both men and women," Wasserman said.
The AMA also recommended a better ratings system to monitor and control video game violence. The current system was devised in 1994 and is outdated, the report said.
"We would like to see a ratings system that better alerts parents to the content of the video game and recommended age of the player, so they can decide whether or not their child should be playing it," Davis said.
The group continued its support of a two-hour screen limit for children, whether on a computer, hand-held device or in front of the TV.
"What the report is urging," said Wasserman, "is to keep the light on this issue and do more research."