The 194 members of the WHO unanimously agreed to adopt the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-11), which includes ‘gaming disorder’ as a recognised disease at the 72nd World Health Assembly.
The new classifications will come into effect on 1 January 2022.
ICD-11 emphasised that gaming disorder is “characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”
The WHO highlighted that in order for gaming disorder to be diagnosed, the behaviour pattern must be of “sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.”
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In 2018, the classification for gaming disorder was added to the ICD-11 revision as the gaming industry faced increased criticism over games that encouraged compulsive play. Generally, console and mobile games reward players with daily login bonuses and rewards.
The WHO stated that including gaming disorder as an official illness will “result in the increased attention of health professionals to the risks of development of this disorder and, accordingly, to relevant prevention and treatment measures.”
Gamers have claimed that their lives “wouldn’t be falling apart” if ‘gaming addiction’ centres were available. Earlier this year, the first NHS-funded ‘gaming addiction’ centre was announced but then indefinitely delayed.
Earlier this year, DIGIT reported on the dangers of obsessive online behaviours as part of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport’s (DCMS) inquiry into addictive technologies.
Media coverage of the impact of video games has often correlated with the rise of popular titles including Fornite, World of Warcraft and an assortment of popular MMORPG’s.
During the inquiry, Matus Mikus, a gaming “addict”, told MPs that parents should set time limits on their children’s game-time.
At the height of his addiction, he spent 32 hours playing without a break. He stated: “I would say first that parents need to talk to their children, as each one is different, but I’d say that three hours at most per day. More than that is when it starts affecting you.”
Matthew Barr, Lecturer at the University of Glasgow and Vice Chair of British DiGRA (the Digital Games Research Association) also said during the inquiry that “most of the discourse around the topic is pretty ill-informed”.
Dr William Huber, Head of the Centre for Excellence in Game Education at Abertay University, also added that ethical discourse over the effect of games is a key focus of designers.
The WHO’s decision has been met with strong opposition from the global games industry. A statement signed by trade bodies from the UK, Europe, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, South Africa and Brazil called on the WHO to ‘rethink’ their decision.
The statement emphasised: “Gaming disorder is not based on sufficiently robust evidence to justify inclusion in one of the WHO’s most important norm-setting tools. We are concerned they reached their conclusion without the consensus of the academic community. The consequences of today’s action could be far-reaching, unintended, and to the detriment of those in need of genuine help.”
The main opposing argument is that relying on ‘gaming addiction’ as an illness could risk misdiagnosing underlying issues such as depression or social anxiety.
Academics have also debated over whether gaming disorder should be deemed an official illness. A paper in the Journal of Behavioural Addictions urged the WHO to ‘err on the side of caution’ and to postpone the classification. The paper also stated that there was a ‘weak scientific basis for gaming disorder’, however, they also agreed that more research is needed.
The paper highlighted: “We agree that there are some people whose play of video games is related to life problems. We believe that understanding this population and the nature and severity of the problems they experience should be a focus area for future research. However, moving from research construct to formal disorder requires a much stronger evidence base than we currently have. The burden of evidence and the clinical utility should be extremely high because there is a genuine risk of abuse of diagnoses.”
The WHO emphasised that the decision on the inclusion of gaming disorder is “based on reviews of available evidence and reflects a consensus of experts from different disciplines and geographical regions.
Gaming giants like Microsoft stated that while they believe more research is needed, they also point to available tools such as parental screen time limits stating that the industry has a ‘great responsibility’ to address concerns over gaming addiction.
Dave McCarthy, Head of Operations at Xbox said: “There is a lot of misunderstood or incomplete sets of information out there. I put the responsibility on us to go and engage in those conversations as much as the responsibility on them to share the information. Once we clarify that and we do things like better research, we’re going to make more informed decisions collectively as an industry and a society. I don’t look at it as a nuisance or a stress point, it’s all about us doing the right thing.”
Sony CEO Kenichiro Yoshida said in an interview with Kyodo News that the industry needs to “take it seriously and adopt countermeasures.”