Video Game Addiction Is Officially Classified As A Mental Disorder

By Paul Gaita 05/30/19

WHO's decision has been met with opposition from the gaming industry and other critics. 

person with gaming disorder

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced that "gaming disorder" will be included in an upcoming revision of its International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-11).

The disorder is defined as a "pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior" which manifests itself in a variety of symptoms, including "impaired control over gaming." The decision has garnered controversy from both the entertainment software community and some mental health professionals, who have described the decision as a "junk diagnosis."

Gaming disorder will be listed in ICD-11 as part of its chapter on "mental, behavioral or neurodevelopmental disorders."

As Polygon noted, the language for the disorder—which was finalized in 2018 and formally adopted on May 25—is nearly identical to ICD-11's description of "gambling disorder," which precedes it in the chapter. 

Gaming disorder applies to behavior exhibited during "digital gaming" or "video-gaming" which may be online or via gaming systems. Those diagnosed with "gaming disorder" may exhibit "impaired control over gaming," as well as "increased priority" to gaming "to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities."

The revision that will include gaming disorder will take effect on January 1, 2022.

Response from the gaming industry has been largely negative; a joint statement issued by European industry members and seven other nations noted that the disorder "is not based on sufficiently robust evidence to justify its inclusion in one of the WHO's most important norm-setting tools."

The Entertainment Software Association also voiced its opposition in 2018, writing that the inclusion in ICD-11 "recklessly trivializes real mental health issues like depression and social anxiety disorder."

Some mental health providers have also voiced opposition to the WHO's decision. "It's really a junk diagnosis," said Christopher J. Ferguson, PhD, to Polygon. Ferguson co-authored a journal article, which was published in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, which said that the organization's definition of gaming disorder showed "little clarity… regarding diagnostic criteria and appropriate symptoms."

Ferguson's co-author, Anthony M. Bean, also suggested to Polygon in 2017 that the WHO was pressured into adding gaming disorder to ICD-11 by Asian member states, where gaming addiction is widely considered to be a serious problem to be dealt with through strict, often draconian measures.

The WHO responded to the article by noting that its decision was based "entirely on the available scientific evidence and experiences with such health conditions in different countries, not limited to Asian countries."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.