In a much-anticipated update of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), the World Health Organisation declared that video gaming can be addictive in the same way as cocaine or gambling. According to WHO, the ICD is the basis for identification of health trends and statistics globally and the international standard for reporting diseases and health conditions. It is used by medical practitioners around the world to diagnose conditions and by researchers to categorise conditions.
Gaming disorder is defined as ‘a pattern of gaming behaviour characterised 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’. Shekhar Saxena, director of the WHO’s department of mental health and substance abuse told AFP, “After consulting with experts across the world and reviewing evidence in an exhaustive manner, we decided that this condition should be added.”
In extreme cases, gamers are unable to pry themselves away from a screen, drop out of school, lose jobs and cut off from family and non-gaming friends. The overwhelming majority of video game adepts are young, many in their teens. “The person does so much gaming that other interests and activities are ignored, including sleeping and eating,” said Saxena.
For gaming disorder to be diagnosed, the behaviour pattern must be of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months. Some 2.5 billion people – one in three worldwide – play some form of free-to-play screen game, especially on cell phones, but the disorder only affects a small minority, said Saxena.
The inclusion of ‘gaming disorder’ in WHO’s revised catalogue of diseases met with resistance from industry and some experts. In a study published in the Journal of Behavioural Addictions, a group of 36 researchers said was insufficient evidence to warrant the new category. The ICD identifies about 55,000 separate injuries, diseases, conditions and causes of death and is widely used as a benchmark for diagnosis and health insurance.