Gaming Disorders Officially Recognized by the World Health Organization

The World Health Organization (WHO) is recognizing “gaming disorder” as a mental health issue in the beta draft of its upcoming 11th International Classification of Diseases (via CNN).

According to the WHO, the disorder is “characterized by a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior” both online and/or off. Meeting the criteria requires a person to have “impaired control over gaming,” prioritizing playing games over other personal and social activities and continuing to play the game despite negative effects on the player’s life.

“The behavior pattern is of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning,” the WHO says about the diagnosis. “The pattern of gaming behavior may be continuous or episodic and recurrent. The gaming behavior and other features are normally evident over a period of at least 12 months in order for a diagnosis to be assigned, although the required duration may be shortened if all diagnostic requirements are met and symptoms are severe.”

A spokesperson for the WHO, Gregory Hartl, told CNN its gaming disorder entry in the latest Classification of Diseases “includes only a clinical description and not prevention and treatment options.”

The inclusion of gaming disorders into a medical compendium like this is relatively unheard of – at least in 2017. Despite the large growth of the game industry and the worries of games leading to addictive behavior, gaming addiction hasn’t been fully recognized in many medical circles. While rehabilitation centers have opened around the world to treat the issue led by addiction specialists, the American Psychiatric Association says it still needs to look into the issue further before considering video game disorders a medical disorder.

The Entertainment Software Association, or ESA, which represents the game industry, dismisses the term.

“Video game ‘addiction’ is a colloquial, loaded term with no real scientific or medical definition or broad support,” ESA vice president Dan Hewitt told Polygon in 2016. “And it is important to remember that video game enthusiasm is often misinterpreted as ‘addiction.’ As such, ESA rejects any attempt by medical societies other than the APA, groups or for-profit entities to term this and we support the APA’s call for more research into computer and video games.”

The APA’s own manual, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental DisordersThe World Health Organization currently lists gaming disorders as a “proposed category,” CNN points out, meaning there’s no official diagnosis by the APA. The WHO’s inclusion of a gaming disorder, however, may start to change some minds in 2018.