Japanese business publication Nikkei is reporting that the World Health Organization (WHO) has officially declared video game addiction to be a disease. This determination was made today at the 72nd World Health Assembly held in Geneva, Switzerland.
The decision finalizes a listing made last year, when the WHO added gaming addiction as a disorder in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). They define gaming disorder as “a pattern of gaming behavior … 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.” For it to actually count as a disorder though, this pattern must dramatically impair personal/occupational life for at least 12 months.
What does this classification actually mean?
Now that game addiction is officially a disorder, WHO member nations will have to contemplate treatment and prevention measures to enact for 2022, which is when this classification comes into effect. Likewise, the presence of game addiction in the IDC will have global legal and insurance repercussions, as insurance companies and medical institutions use the IDC as a guideline for diseases.
Game addiction as a disorder is a slippery slope
The WHO consulted with the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) back in January to discuss this topic. At the time, ESA CEO Stanley Pierre-Louis was weary of classifying game addiction as a disorder, saying, “In fact, leading mental health experts have cautioned repeatedly that classifying ‘Gaming Disorder’ creates a risk of misdiagnosis for patients who most need help.” In other words, hastily slapping a “game addict” label on a person could ignore more serious issues in a person’s life that are causing this person to play a lot of games.
This is a pretty hard one to call. The WHO is a deeply respected body, and if they have arrived at this conclusion, they must have some good reasons for it. Granted, there will always be someone who will chime in to say, “Seriously? Playing a lot of Fortnite is a disease now?” Both sides of this issue have deep layers to explore, and in any case, it’s commendable that the WHO is taking action.