At the 72nd World Health Assembly, 194 members of the WHO unanimously agreed to adopt the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-11), which includes ‘gaming disorder’ as a recognised disease. The new classifications will come into effect on 1 January 2022.
The ICD-11 says that gaming disorder is “characterized 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.”
For gaming disorder to be diagnosed, says the WHO, the behaviour pattern must be “of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.”
The classification for gaming disorder was added to the ICD-11 revision in mid-2018 as the gaming industry faced increased scrutiny over games that encouraged compulsive play. Many games across both console and mobile reward players with daily login bonuses and rewards.
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 first NHS-funded ‘gaming addiction’ centre was announced but then indefinitely delayed earlier this year, while gamers claiming to be addicted to video games have told The Telegraph that their life 'wouldn’t be falling apart’ if such centres were up and running.
However, the WHO’s decision to adopt gaming disorder as an official disease has been met with strong opposition by the global games industry. A statement signed by trade bodies from the UK, Europe, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, South Africa and Brazil called on the WHO to ‘rethink’ the decision.
“Gaming disorder is not based on sufficiently robust evidence to justify inclusion in one of the WHO’s most important norm-setting tools,” said the statement. “We are concerned they reached their conclusion without the consensus of the academic community. The consequences of today’s action could be far-reaching, unintended, and to the detriment of those in need of genuine help.”
There is also debate among academics over whether gaming disorder should be recognised as an official illness. When the gaming disorder classification was first revealed, a paper in the Journal of Behavioural Addictions urged the WHO to ‘err on the side of caution’ and to postpone the classification. The paper said there was a ‘weak scientific basis for gaming disorder’, but agreed that more research is needed.
“We agree that there are some people whose play of video games is related to life problems,” said the paper. “We believe that understanding this population and the nature and severity of the problems they experience should be a focus area for future research. However, moving from research construct to formal disorder requires a much stronger evidence base than we currently have. The burden of evidence and the clinical utility should be extremely high because there is a genuine risk of abuse of diagnoses.”
The main opposing argument is that relying on ‘gaming addiction’ as an illness could obfuscate underlying issues such as depression or social anxiety.
The WHO said that the decision on the inclusion of gaming disorder is “based on reviews of available evidence and reflects a consensus of experts from different disciplines and geographical regions.”
Gaming companies such as Microsoft say that while they believe more research is needed, the industry has a ‘great responsibility’ to address concerns over gaming addiction, pointing to available tools such as parents being able to set screen time limits.
“There is a lot of misunderstood or incomplete sets of information out there,” Xbox Head of Operations Dave McCarthy told The Telegraph. “I put the responsibility on us to go and engage in those conversations as much as the responsibility on them to share the information. Once we clarify that and we do things like better research, we’re going to make more informed decisions collectively as an industry and a society. I don’t look at it as a nuisance or a stress point, it’s all about us doing the right thing.”
Sony CEO Kenichiro Yoshida said in an interview with Kyodo News that the industry needs to “take it seriously and adopt countermeasures."