World Health Organization declares compulsive video gaming a mental disorder

Frederick Owens
June 19, 2018

Video gaming can be addictive in the same way as cocaine or gambling, the World Health Organization said Monday (June 18) in a much anticipated update of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11).

For this draft, the manual lists two kinds of possible gaming disorders.

It adds the behaviour is severe enough to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.

On Monday, the World Health Organization announced its eleventh International Classification of Diseases, placing "Video Game Disorder" in the same category as 'Gambling Disorder'. As is the case with these more veteran disorders in the ICD, a diagnosis of gaming disorder can only be applied after negative behavioral patterns have persisted for at least 12 months. The pattern of gaming is often persists in spite of awareness of increased risk of harm to the individual or to others.

In South Korea and the United States, clinics have sprung up to treat video game addiction, along with community and online support groups. "Very large numbers of people play games on- and off-line", the Department of Health & Social Care told Eurogamer.

This latest version, known as ICD-11, is completely electronic for the first time, in an effort to make it more accessible to doctors and other health workers around the world.

WHO has said gaming disorder is a serious health condition that requires monitoring
WHO has said gaming disorder is a serious health condition that requires monitoring

It's also worth mentioning that even with this definition, diagnosis standards are quite high.

"ICD is a cornerstone of health information and ICD-11 will deliver an up-to-date view of the patterns of disease", said Lubna Alansari, WHO's Assistant Director-General (Health Metrics and Measurement).

Jen MacLean, executive director of the International Game Developers Association, said in a blog post in January that the classification poses threats to game developers and it is "so broad as to cover nearly every person who's ever played "just one more turn" of an fantastic game, or who prioritizes games as their first choice of hobby or entertainment". The statement is highly critical, citing contested and inconclusive data and concerns of misdiagnosis.

The WHO writes: "Studies suggest that gaming disorder affects only a small proportion of people who engage in digital- or video-gaming activities". The manual's last revision occurred way back in 1992, and it desperately needs fixes to benefit today's medical professionals.

UKIE already has their own FAQ up about the issue, which explains the controversy and the genuine disagreement in academic circles as to whether gaming addiction counts as a separate disorder.

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