In January 2018, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that gaming disorder would for the first time appear as a dangerous mental health condition in the 11th International Classification of Diseases.
Many countries, including China, Japan, and the United Kingdom have already implemented restrictive measures to combat a growing gaming addiction.
Belarus, on the other hand, still experiences euphoria from the global success of World of Tanks, a multiplayer online game created by Belarusian developers. While researchers maintain that gaming addiction rapidly spreads among young Belarusians, no restrictive measures have appeared so far. The cult of the national IT industry, as well as a powerful gaming lobby, prevent a national debate on the alarming health issue.
Belarusians’ gaming preferences
In January 2014, the Institute of Sociology of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus conducted a survey about the gaming age and preferences of Belarusians. According to the survey, 15.6% of adult Belarusians play offline computer games, 15.4% choose online computer games, and 1.4% prefer PlayStation. Hence, each third adult Belarusian uses products of the gaming industry. 10.4% of those surveyed acknowledged that their children also played computer games. This indicates even higher national engagement in the gaming industry, and that it will further grow with the next generation.
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At present, young and middle-aged Belarusians constitute the most active group of gamers. However, as respondents’ age increases, their engagement with online computer games decreases. Family life and work commitments leave less time for gaming activities. Moreover, gamers aged 50 or above tend to favour offline computer games. This can be partly explained by income differences. Older Belarusians, including pensioners, generally have lower incomes and cannot afford to pay for mobile internet connection.
Why Belarusian ladies choose Sims over World of Tanks
In ratings of Belarusians’ favourite computer games, easy mini-games such as Angry Birds and Tetris take the lead. World of Tanks holds second position, revealing some patriotism, while two shooter games, Counter-Strike and Dota 2, occupy third place. Apart from these, Belarusian respondents actively play the war strategy game Warcraft, lifestyle simulation Sims, action-adventure GTA, and the racing game Need for Speed.
The survey uncovered a remarkable gender-based segmentation of Belarusian gaming preferences. While men prefer games involving war activities, women tend to favour mini-games and simulations. Mini-games do not require strong engagement and provide female gamers with a sense of gratitude over small results.
Simulation games compensate women for the lack of fashion items, proper living conditions, and social fulfillment. According to a number of social surveys, more than 50% of Belarusian females lack the finance to expand their wardrobes, and fewer than 20% enjoy their living conditions. Simulation games such as Sims allow women to change accessories, clothes, hairstyles, gadgets, and furniture as much as they like. The gaming industry perfectly exploits the unfulfilled demands of female audiences by creating a separate fairy-tale reality.
Time to raise the alert?
Several Belarusian researchers have investigated students and their gaming activities. In 2013 a survey of Brest State University students discovered that 72% of male students and 33% of female students suffered from gaming addiction. Another survey of students of the Belarusian State University of Informatics and Radioelectronics indicated that each third student experienced some form of gaming addiction, and each seventh student required therapy. The researchers warn that gaming addiction progresses quite quickly as new generations acquire easier access to gadgets.
At present, Belarusian medics do not possess a proper methodology of gaming addiction treatment. Despite the growth of gaming addiction among Belarusians, neither medical communities nor government officials have called for additional research or restrictive legislative measures. Yet researchers include aggressive marketing among the major reasons of the growing gaming addiction in Belarus. Another problem is parental ignorance. Some parents facilitate gaming activities from fears of the bad influence of the street, others view gaming as an easy way of preoccupying a naughty child.
Consequently, Belarusian legislators and medical communities have to work in two directions: to prohibit the aggressive marketing of computer games and to raise awareness among parents. Obviously, banning gaming adverts might cause resistance from the powerful Belarusian gaming industry, hence medics have to become the decisive voice in a prospective national debate.
Is it right to play for the Nazis in a battle of tanks?
Apart from health concerns, gaming addiction also raises ethical questions. First, children and teenagers get exposed to a large portion of violence, which inevitably harms their fragile psyche. Second, a range of computer games depicts historic events in a contradictory manner. Thus, Russia has recently banned the distribution of computer games that present Soviet soldiers in a bad light.
As for World of Tanks, gamers possess an option to play for Nazi Germany. While the majority of gamers drive Panzers and Tigers without any prejudices, certain voices have already questioned the moral standards of those Belarusian gamers choosing to be a part of the virtual Wehrmacht. At the same time, Wargaming – the developer of World of Tanks – hardly counts as the only company in the global gaming industry to exploit history. A sense of personal affiliation to particular historical events brings additional excitement and urges gamers to invest more efforts and finance.
Although gaming addiction has spread quickly among young Belarusians, counter-measures to combat the problem will not appear in the near feature. To put it bluntly, the Belarusian government benefits very much from a powerful gaming industry. Though Wargaming pays its corporate taxes in Nicosia instead of Minsk, tank battles distract a large portion of Belarusian society from active changes in real life and absorb social tensions. While men fulfil their warrior instinct by planning virtual military campaigns, women cure their social frustration by changing wardrobes and furniture in a simulation.
Meanwhile, a range of countries has taken a different approach towards the growing gaming industry. In China, internet giant Tencent has limited the playing hours for the most popular online games. South Korea has legally banned access for children under 16 from online games between midnight and 6am (the so-called “shutdown law”). In the UK and the European Union, special regulatory bodies strictly classify video games according to the level of violence. Hence, the global trend of limiting gaming activity contradicts Belarus’s more ignorant approach.