WHO Designates Video Game Addiction As A Mental Health Disorder

On June 18, the World Health Organization added video game addiction, or “gaming disorder,” to its latest revised draft of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), with the classification expected to become official in 2019. Playing video games for hours on end doesn’t necessarily mean you have the disorder, but as WHO reports, the disease emerges “when the pattern of gaming behavior is of such a nature and intensity that it results in marked distress or significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational or occupational functioning.”

Many parents have long complained about the impact of video game addiction on children and WHO’s recent designation appears to validate their concerns. In fact, the issue has become so pronounced that a growing number of psychologists across the United States have begun to specialize in treating children who struggle with compulsive gaming.

Back in 2007, the Harris Poll conducted a study for researcher Douglas Gentile of Iowa State University, which was one of the earliest revelations that children could become addicted to playing video games. The study found that 8.5 percent of American youths ages 8 to 18 who play video games showed multiple signs of behavioral addiction.

To determine gaming addiction, Gentile modified diagnostic criteria for pathological gambling into questions on video game use. Gamers were considered “pathological” if they reported at least six of the 11 symptoms, which included spending increasing amounts of time and money on video games to feel the same level of excitement, irritability or restlessness when play is scaled back, skipping chores or homework, etc. Four times as many boys as girls were considered “pathological gamers.”

Children deemed pathological gamers did worse in school, had trouble paying attention in class and reported feeling “addicted.” They were twice as likely to report attention-deficit disorder or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. The study also found that 88 percent of the American children ages 8 to 18 play video games and the findings also suggest that 3 million children in that age range in the country are addicted “or at least have problems of the magnitude” that require help.

The subject, however, doesn’t just affect children. Today, 2.6 billion people around the world play video games, including two-thirds of American households, according to the Entertainment Software Association. And despite the rising fears about gaming addiction, tech giants such as Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter are increasingly competing with each other in the $36 billion livestream video games industry. On the other hand, others like Google and Apple are working on “digital wellness” apps to try to deter excessive phone use.

WHO adds that health concerns associated with gaming behavior are not limited to gaming disorder, but also include other health problems—such as insufficient physical activity, bad diet, eyesight or hearing problems, musculoskeletal problems, sleep deprivation, aggressive behavior and even depression.

Including gaming disorder in ICD-11 was based on reviews of available evidence and a consensus of experts from different disciplines and geographical regions. As the New York Times reports the designation could also “make gamers more willing to seek treatment, encourage more therapists to provide it and increase the chances that insurance companies would cover it.”