‘Gaming disorder’ officially on World Health Organization’s list of diseases

The World Health Organization today adopted a revision to the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-11), and that includes for the first time “Gaming disorder,” which is considered an addictive behavior disorder.

“Gaming disorder” is listed after “gambling disorder” in ICD-11 and uses that disorder’s language almost word-for-word, replacing “gambling” with “gaming.” Gambling disorder was formerly “pathological gambling” in ICD-10, which the WHO ratified in 1990. The text of ICD-11 was finalized a year ago; today’s action, at the 72nd World Health Assembly, was its formal adopting. The revision takes effect Jan. 1, 2022.

The International Classification of Diseases is a system for classifying diseases and disorders for purposes of epidemiological research, health care management and billing, and clinical treatment. It has a chapter set aside for “mental, behavioral or neurodevelopmental disorders,” where gaming disorder is listed.

Its language calls gaming disorder “a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior (‘digital gaming’ or ‘video-gaming’), which may be online (i.e., over the internet) or offline.”

Those with gaming disorder may show “impaired control over gaming,” “increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities,” and “continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurence of negative consequences.”

A joint statement from representatives of the video games industry in Europe and seven other nations called on the WHO to re-examine the decision to include gaming disorder in ICD-11.

“The WHO is an esteemed organization and its guidance needs to be based on regular, inclusive, and transparent reviews backed by independent experts,” the statement said. “‘Gaming disorder’ is not based on sufficiently robust evidence to justify its inclusion in one of the WHO’s most important norm-setting tools.”

When the WHO finalized ICD-11’s text last year, the Entertainment Software Association pushed back against the inclusion of “gaming disorder,” saying that doing so “recklessly trivializes real mental health issues like depression and social anxiety disorder.”

Last year, mental health professionals who spoke to Polygon criticized the listing of “gaming disorder” as “rushed” and a “junk diagnosis.” One argued that the WHO was pressured by Asian member states to add “gaming disorder,” noting that China and South Korea in particular have battled gaming addiction at a policy level. The WHO denied that political pressure influenced the adoption of the gaming disorder text.

The ICD is not law, nor does it have the force of it. But it is greatly influential in how professionals and policy makers study and propose treatment or intervention in public health matters. That influence can be felt at a patient level. Last year, a clinical psychologist noted to Polygon that he deals with parents convinced their children are addicted to games, and worries that the WHO’s actions will worsen their fears and reactions.

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