Spending too much time playing video games may seem more benign than many other forms of addiction, but the World Health Organization’s official literature on diseases will be listing “gaming disorder” as a mental health condition next year, when it gets updated for the first time in almost three decades.
Since the WHO’s creation in 1948, the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) has been used by the agency for classifying and analyzing diseases and other health issues, and for providing a snapshot of the health situation of countries and populations. According to the WHO’s ICD fact sheet, the literature was originally known as the International List of Causes of Death when it was first adopted in 1893, and has gone through 10 published editions, with the last update having been endorsed in May 1990.
With the WHO set to publish the ICD’s 11th update (ICD-11) in 2018, the agency will be adding a number of new diseases and conditions, including gaming disorder. According to a report from New Scientist, the WHO is still finalizing the language that will be used to describe the condition in ICD-11, but there are some drafted guidelines that medical professionals can use to determine if someone is playing too many games for their own good. These include prioritizing gaming to a point where the activity “takes precedence over other life interests,” and does so for at least a year, and insisting on gaming even if a person is aware of, and has suffered from its “negative consequences.”
At the moment, the WHO has yet to list other similar technology or gadget-related conditions, such as smartphone or internet addiction. According to the Daily Mail, there still isn’t enough evidence to prove that these conditions are “real disorders.”
In a statement, WHO Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse coordinator Vladimir Poznyak said that clinicians should be aware that addiction to gaming is a clear and present danger to the health of individuals, due to its “serious” consequences.
“Most people who play video games don’t have a disorder, just like most people who drink alcohol don’t have a disorder either. However, in certain circumstances overuse can lead to adverse effects.”
While reports on the dangers of gaming primarily center on the potentially deleterious effects of video games, the WHO stressed that gaming disorder is a broader condition that covers various types of games. It is estimated, however, that the percentage of computer gamers who suffer from the condition could range from as low as 0.2 percent to as high as about 20 percent.
Although a previous report from WebMD cited multiple experts who, even before the news of the WHO listing gaming addiction as an official disorder first broke, warned about the dangers of video gaming, IFLScience noted that there are experts who firmly believe that video game addiction in particular should not be considered a mental illness, as it may result in gamers getting stigmatized, and lead to the trivialization of more serious mental disorders. These include psychiatrist Allen Frances, who had previously headed the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), and refused to list internet addiction because he didn’t want to mislabel or over-diagnose people who happen to spend a lot of time on their gadgets.
“Billions of people around the world are hooked on caffeine for fun or better functioning, but only rarely does this cause more trouble than its worth,” Frances commented.