Earlier this year, the World Health Organization added “gaming disorder” to its International Classification of Diseases. That’s a long-awaited nod from the medical community that Hilarie Cash, founder and chief clinical officer of reSTART, has been hoping for since she opened reSTART nine years ago.
“People tend to think it can’t be real, but they are misled,” Cash told VICE News. “Because if you’re a gaming addict and you’re actively gaming your brain is going to light up the same way someone who’s high on cocaine, the same way their brain lights up.”
But despite its new recognition by the WHO, there’s no scientific consensus as to whether gaming addiction is a real disorder, and some academics are pushing back on the WHO’s classification, saying there needs to be further research.
Treatment at reSTART isn’t cheap. The first phase of the program, which includes no contact with the outside world and daily therapy sessions, usually lasts two months and costs $30,000. After that, recovering gaming addicts live in halfway houses — apartments leased by reSTART — with their fellow patients. The second phase costs $7,000 a month. In just about every case, the rehab is paid for by the patient’s parents. Patients in the program are typically in their early twenties, but some are as old as 30.
“I mean I may be almost 30 years old but I’ve never actually functioned as a true adult,” Kevin, a patient at reSTART, told VICE News. “Paying my own bills, go to things on time, go make my own food. Things like that. Those are all things that I’ve never fully accomplished.”
At reSTART, patients learn how to use technology responsibly — and how to function without it. Cash says there’s currently a waiting list to get into the program.
VICE News met with some gaming addicts and the clinicians who treat them as they try to participate in an open world, free of gaming.