Gaming Could Be Classified as Addiction by WHO

There it is under "disorders due to addictive behaviours," just under gambling. Researchers don't agree on the inclusion, but gaming — think Super Mario Odyssey or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild — has just been added to the latest draft version of the next International Classification of Diseases. ICD is a reference long developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) to track global health trends and statistics.

Why is video play suddenly under scrutiny by WHO? According to an online explanation, there was compelling evidence that it has become a health problem. Apparently, a sufficient number of medical experts from around the world have reported on patients who spend time gaming to the exclusion of anything else — family, work, eating, health, hygiene.

The American Psychiatric Association's own Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, 5th Edition describes the same disorder. However, it's not considered unique: In that reference, it's placed under "Conditions for Further Study," alongside other conditions such as "caffeine use disorder" and "non-suicidal self-injury."

According to the ICD's beta draft, a gaming disorder "is characterized by a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior," whether continuous or "episodic and recurrent." The disorder can be identified by three defining characteristics:

  • The individual loses control over how much or how often to play and when;
  • Gaming is given priority over other interests and daily activities; and
  • Even when gaming produces "negative consequences," the player can't stop.

"The behaviour pattern is of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning," the current description summarized.

While the activities pointing to a disorder "normally" need to be evident for at least 12 months in order for an accurate diagnosis to be made, the ICD noted, the required duration can be shortened "if all diagnostic requirements are met and symptoms are severe."

Not everyone who studies this sort of thing is convinced of the need for ICD to include gaming as a disorder. In coverage by Futurism, Alexander Blaszczynski, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Sydney who studies gambling, said he was concerned about the lack of "clear diagnostic criteria" for defining what a gaming disorder is, let alone how to apply the criteria. Besides, he added, the term "addiction" is being applied to "everything from salsa dancing, to smartphones, to in vitro fertilization." "At what point," he asked, "does an activity transform from an entertainment to a disorder?"

However, the same article also quoted a psychology professor from Iowa State University who disagreed with that assessment. Douglas Gentile told the publication it was about time video gaming was viewed as an addiction, comparing it to "where we were with alcoholism in the 1960s." At that time, the article explained, "alcoholism was considered a moral failing." Now, said Gentile, "people can get the help they need."

Should gaming be placed on a par with problems with drinking or taking hardcore drugs? Psychologist Chris Ferguson told gaming site Kotaku he believes "the push to pathologize gaming" is misguided. "There are many myths such as that games involve dopamine and brain regions similar to substance abuse," he said. "There's a kernel of truth to that but only insofar as any pleasurable activity activates these regions. How gaming involves them is more similar to other fun activities like eating chocolate, having sex, getting a good grade, etc., not heroin or cocaine."

Right now, the ICD draft is just that; the contents are updated frequently, which means gaming may not make the final cut in its current form. Currently, the contents don't include treatment or prevention information. Until it does, could I have the controller back?

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.