In 2018, playing video games obsessively might lead to a diagnosis of a mental health disorder, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.
In the beta draft of its forthcoming 11th International Classification of Diseases – a book used by researchers and doctors to track and diagnose disease – the WHO includes “gaming disorder” in its list of mental health conditions.
The WHO defines the disorder as a “persistent or recurrent” behavior pattern of “sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.”
The disorder is characterized by “impaired control” with increasing priority given to gaming and “escalation,” despite “negative consequences.”
According to the beta draft guidance, playing of video game – either online or offline – must be “normally evident over a period of at least 12 months” for this diagnosis to be made,
However, if symptoms are severe and all requirements are met, health care professionals may include people who have been playing for shorter periods of time, the draft reads.
Gregory Hartl, a spokesman for the WHO, said the new ICD-11 entry on gaming disorder “includes only a clinical description and not prevention and treatment options”.
He said: “Use of the internet, computers, smartphones and other electronic devices has dramatically increased over recent decades and health problems as a result of excessive use have also been documented.”
Experts have long debated whether video game addiction should be considered a mental health disorder.
A 2009 study in the journal Psychological Science estimated that 8.5% of US youth between the ages of 8 and 18 who played video games also showed signs of behavioral addiction to those games.
Proponents of classifying video game addiction as a disorder say that it’s not so different from addiction to drugs and alcohol.
But others have argued that the WHO’s classification is scientifically unsound.
“This was a very poorly thought out decision [by the WHO],” Chris Ferguson, a psychology professor at Stetson University in Florida who has studied how video games impact society, told Gizmodo.
“The evidence we now have suggests that ‘gaming disorder’ is merely symptomatic of other, underlying mental health problems and that gaming is often used as a coping mechanism for these problems.”
The recognition of “gaming disorder” in the International Classification of Diseases will mean insurance companies are more likely to reimburse video game addiction treatment centers.