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World Health Organization to Recognize Gaming Disorder as a Mental Health Condition

Elizabeth Cassidy
Man playing a computer video game

The World Health Organization (WHO) will officially recognize video game addiction, or gaming disorder, as a mental health condition in 2018. The diagnosis will be featured in its International Classification of Diseases manual, which hasn’t been updated since the 90s, according to New Scientist.

Gaming disorder, which is focused on video games, will fall under the category of “disorders due to addictive behavior,” the same category gambling addiction is in.

The official text is still in the drafting process, but so far includes symptoms such as prioritizing games, an inability to control the length of gameplay and ignoring negative consequences related to gaming.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5, or DSM 5, added internet gaming disorder as a condition needing more clinical research. The DSM 5 was published in 2013 by the America Psychological Association (APA) and is separate from WHO.

According to a study in the American Journal of Psychiatry, most people who played internet video games did not report symptoms, and the percentage of those who might qualify for the disorder was extremely small.

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Chris Ferguson, a psychology professor at Stetson University with a research interest in video games, told The Mighty that WHO’s decision to include gaming disorder is controversial. Many scholars do not think the research is adequate to support a gaming disorder diagnosis, he said, adding:

This ‘disorder’ may trivialize mental illness by pathologizing normal behaviors and may be the product of ongoing moral panics regarding video games.  Although some people likely do over-game, in the same sense that some people overdo almost any pleasurable activity, there isn’t good evidence to suggest that gaming is unique and deserving of it’s own diagnosis.  Further, some emerging evidence suggests that pathological gaming may merely be a symptom of underlying mental illnesses rather than a unique disorder of it’s own.

A large group of scholars co-authored an article expressing concern over WHO’s decision to make gaming disorder official. The scholars cited a lack of formidable research at hand, a lack of consensus on what constitutes symptoms and the use of substance abuse criteria as a way to form criteria for a gaming disorder.

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Ferguson said one of the greatest myths is that pathological gaming is comparable to alcohol or drugs like methamphetamine.

“Part of this misunderstanding is because some drugs activate pleasure centers of the brain that work with dopamine,” he added. “And of course fun things like gaming (or anything fun) activates these areas too. It’s a good example of taking a normal process and making it sound pathological by making a misleading comparison.”

Photo by Kerkez

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