With the rise of parental concerns into children’s use of video games, the World Health Organisation has classified gaming addiction as a mental health disorder.
On Tuesday, the WHO added “gaming disorder” to its list of recognised and diagnosable diseases, as part of its 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases.
It characterised the addiction as when one has impaired control over their gaming behaviour, and as “a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour” that becomes so extensive that it “takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities”.
It also deems a player’s continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences (i.e. lack of sleep) as a significant impairment. The draft draws similarities to gambling addictions.
The WHO said 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” for gaming disorder to be diagnosed.
However, the formal decision to recognise the overuse of games as a mental health condition has been depicted as an overreaction.
Last year, a study from nearly 30 academics opposed the gaming disorder classification, saying their addiction was best viewed as a coping mechanism associated with underlying problems such as anxiety or depression.
The classification was also lambasted on social media, with users linking the concern about gaming addiction more to moral panic than solid evidence.
#bbcbreakfast gaming disorder sounds ridiculous. Bringing down a whole genre of entertainment because kids are spending too long on them. Gaming helps people already secluded meet new people, kids on games are not out on the streets smoking or taking drugs.
— The Claire Cast (@TheClaireCast) June 18, 2018
I mean, at least TRY to interview at least a couple of people who don't, you know, have a direct commercial interest in stoking parental panic around games? And don't summarily dismiss all concerns and doubts about the WHO ruling as the games industry defending itself.
— Keith Stuart (@keefstuart) June 18, 2018
"Gaming disorder". Addiction to video games is now a mental disorder.
It cant just be that it's fun and social and the real world is a complete snit show. Right?
— Boogie2988 OMW to Vidcon (@Boogie2988) June 18, 2018
The ICD, which has been updated in the past 10 years, covers 55,000 injuries, diseases and causes of death.
It forms a basis for the WHO and other experts to see and respond to trends in health.
“It enables us to understand so much about what makes people get sick and die, and to take action to prevent suffering and save lives,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said as the ICD was published.
The ICD is also used by health insurers, whose reimbursements depend on its classifications.
This latest version – known as ICD-11 – is completely electronic for the first time, to try to make it more accessible to doctors and other health workers around the world.
ICD-11 also includes changes to sexual health classifications. Previous editions had categorised sexual dysfunction and gender incongruence, for example, under mental health conditions. In ICD-11, these move to the sexual health section. The latest edition also has a new chapter on traditional medicine.
The updated ICD will be presented to WHO member states at their annual World Health Assembly in May 2019 for adoption in January 2022, WHO said.