The World Health Organization (WHO) has voted to recognize “gaming disorder,” or video game addiction, as an official illness. The move was first reported last year but has now been ratified.
After a year and a half of deliberation, the organization’s 194 members unanimously agreed to adopt the new revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-11), including gaming disorder. The revision goes into effect on January 1, 2022.
Gaming disorder is placed in a category in the revision called “Disorders due to substance use or addictive behaviors,” alongside other more recognized addictions such as alcohol and gambling. The definition in full is as follows:
“Gaming disorder is characterized by a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour (“digital gaming” or “video-gaming”), which may be online (i.e., over the internet) or offline, manifested by:
1. impaired control over gaming (e.g., onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination, context);
2. increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities; and
3. continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences. 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 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.”
The WHO says 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.”
The video games industry, as you might expect, isn’t happy. A statement signed by trade bodies from the UK, Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, South Africa, and Brazil this week called on the WHO to “rethink” the classification.
The big question we’re left with now is what exactly constitutes gaming disorder and at what point should we start to be concerned about it. As Dr. John Jiao points out in the helpful Twitter thread below, it’s more about gaming getting in the way of other aspects of life rather than the number of hours you play.
Also ratified is the decision to remove transgenderism from the list of mental health conditions. This move was also mooted last year. Human Rights Watch’s LGBT+ rights director Graeme Reid welcomed the change. “The WHO’s removal of ‘gender identity disorder’ from its diagnostic manual will have a liberating effect on transgender people worldwide,” he said.
“Gender identity disorder” has now been reframed as “gender incongruence,” and moved in the ICD-11 from the “mental disorders” category to a chapter relating to sexual health.