By Tracey Dowdy
Back in June 2018, the World Health Organization added “Gaming Disorder” to its list of modern diseases. In May 2019, they updated its classification under the heading “potentially harmful technology-related behaviors,” including excessive use of “the internet, computers, smartphones” and more.
The WHO describes gaming disorder as: “a pattern of behaviour characterised by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”
Also included is the qualification that “For gaming disorder to be diagnosed, the behaviour pattern must be of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months.”
The decision is not without controversy as the WHO faced strong opposition from trade groups within the video game industry like Entertainment Software Association (ESA) and Interactive Software Federation of Europe (ISFE), both citing research that counters the WHO’s claims.
In January 2019, ESA CEO Stanley Pierre-Louis stated, “more conversation and education” between ESA and the WHO was necessary before a final decision was made. “As an industry we are committed to collaborating with stakeholders, researchers, policymakers, and parents to ensure best-in-class ratings, parental controls, and other tools help video game players and parents understand and manage healthy video game play.”
In a statement issued to GamesIndustry.biz, managing director Simon Little said: “Classifying ‘gaming disorder’ under the mental health and addiction category of the ICD-11 list may well lead to abuse of diagnosis and misdiagnosis as such inclusion is not based on a high level of evidence, as would be required to formalise any other disorder.”
Of course, the controversy surrounding gaming addiction isn’t new. In the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5), The American Psychiatric Association says it’s “a condition warranting more clinical research and experience” before it will be included as a formal disorder.
The American Medical Association made its stance clear back in 2007. “There is nothing here to suggest that this is a complex physiological disease state akin to alcoholism or other substance abuse disorders, and it doesn’t get to have the word addiction attached to it,” said Dr. Stuart Gitlow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine and Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.
Despite opposition, “gaming addiction” has been officially adopted into the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) at the 72nd World Health Assembly.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.