Gaming Disorder: Now A Mental Illness, According To The World Health Organization

Gaming Disorder: Now A Mental Illness, According To The World Health Organization

By: Oliver G. Alvar -

The WHO has officially added 'gaming disorder' to its list of recognized diseases, much to the annoyance of the gaming industry.

It's late at night. You're lying on your bed after a long day's work and want to relax, get distracted, and escape the woes of your daily life. So, you take your phone and open an app you downloaded a few days ago: Angry Birds, or Candy Crush, or any other such mobile game you can think of. You start playing, and soon, you’re hooked. You want a better score, you want the next level's prize. "Just one more level," you think to yourself. "Just one more." And you keep going. You don't stop.

Suddenly, it's daytime, and you're supposed to go to work. You barely slept, and keep thinking about that new level at your office. You take out your phone every once in a while and soon enough you can't think of anything else. You're no longer merely "hooked." You're addicted.

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This kind of situation is all too common, even if it hasn't happened to you personally. Perhaps it's happened to a friend of yours, or to a family member, or an acquaintance. It happens so much that the World Health Organization (WHO) has just officially declared "gaming disorder" as a mental disease in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), much to the gaming industry's annoyance.

gaming disorder modern day mental illness who

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What exactly is “gaming disorder”?

The WHO characterizes "gaming disorder" as a condition of "persistent or recurring gaming behavior" that causes "significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning." According to the organization, this mental disease is usually manifested in three ways:

  • When a person shows impaired control over gaming
  • When a person prioritizes gaming over other life interests and daily activities.
  • When an individual continues his gaming activities despite the occurrence of negative consequences.

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Reactions and response

This is not the first time we hear about gaming disorder, though. The WHO first proposed it as a disease in December 2017 (though they didn't officially include it until now), and many have argued it was a thing for years. Its full definition was settled in June 2018. 

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In response to the recent move, representatives of the gaming industry across the world quickly asked the WHO to "re-examine" its decision, believing that it was "not based on sufficiently robust evidence." 

In a joint statement, companies from Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, South Africa, and Brazil all challenged the call.

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When many gaming industries first heard the news back in 2017, they unsurprisingly rallied against the notion of gaming disorder. The International Game Developers Association (IGDA), for example, said:

"Loving games is not a mental health problem. Making games your hobby of choice is not a disorder. The WHO's creation of a 'gaming disorder' has the potential to do significant and serious harm to people who use games as a coping mechanism for anxiety, depression, and stress-and may encourage doctors to address the symptoms but not the underlying illnesses."

The gaming community fears the consequences of thinking about "committed gaming" as a disorder, since there's already a social prejudice that considers gaming is a waste of time—often labeling gamers as "geeks" or "nerds" in a pejorative sense.

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Whatever the problems with the gaming community (sexism is rampant, for example), this particular stigma might be unfair considering gaming can be both profitable (it's a multibillion-dollar industry, and professional gamers can earn millions in prize money) and beneficial (it helps with spatial reasoning, problem-solving, dexterity, and several other mental and physical skills).

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However, the WHO does not seem to be trying to undermine gaming as a worthwhile activity. Like with any activity, if gaming is taken to dysfunctional extremes, it can potentially be very harmful. If there's enough people suffering from gaming addiction to the point of risking their overall health, then it's only good that we're all aware about it and have the means, both in terms of treatment and social policies, to help.

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