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From Hobby to Addiction: WHO Labels Compulsive Video Gaming a Mental Health Problem

SACRAMENTO -- When does a hobby become a habit and when does a habit become an addiction?

What concerns mental health experts more is not how much time is spent playing video games, but a player's inability to stop.

The World Health Organization said Monday that compulsively playing video games now qualifies as a new mental health condition.

"We had a teenager, both parents worked. He was alone at home, he refused to go to school," psychologist Dr. Ursula Stehle said. "Then they arranged for him to be picked up. He wouldn’t open the door. He was playing video games all day."

Stehle says the danger with plugging into a game is that you unplug from direct human contact. The emotional rewards are external and artificial, and that can have consequences.

Earlier this year, police in Ceres say 28-year-old Matthew Nicholson got into an argument with his mother over a game he was playing in his room.

"It was a computer-based video game. And at some point, he broke his headset and came out of the room yelling at the mom, accusing her of causing the headset to be broken, and grabbed a gun and started shooting," Ceres Police Sergeant Greg Yotsuya said.

Nicholson's mother, Lydia, was killed. It was a really extreme example of an issue many parents deal with every day.

"They don't want to go outside. Basically, they want to stay on the Fortnight all day," dad Domo West said.

Games like the insanely popular Fortnight have value. They can teach kids teamwork and design skills.

Dr. Stehle says she’s been treating video game addiction for years. But recognition by the World Health Organization that it can be a clinical condition, means more clinics will follow suit.