The World Health Organization says compulsively playing video games now qualifies as a mental health condition in the 11th edition of its International Classification of Diseases (ICD). The ICD is a diagnosis standard used by doctors and other medical practitioners to diagnose disease and other conditions. Researchers use it to count deaths, diseases, injuries and symptoms, while health care companies and insurers use it as a basis for reimbursement.
Dr. Vladimir Poznyak, a member of WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, proposed the new diagnosis to WHO’s decision-making body, the World Health Assembly. WHO said gaming disorder should be listed as a new problem based on scientific evidence and that classifying it as a separate addiction will help governments, families and health care workers be more vigilant and prepared to identify the risks. The American Psychiatric Association has not yet deemed gaming disorder to be a mental health problem.
There are three major diagnostic features or characteristics of gaming disorder. The first is that the gaming behavior takes precedence over other activities, including self-care activities like eating or bathing. The second is that a “persistent or recurrent” behavior pattern of “sufficient severity” has emerged. The third feature is that the condition leads to significant distress and impairment in functioning. The negative pattern of behavior must last at least 12 months for a diagnosis to be made, but exceptions can be made for severe cases.
The main characteristics of gaming disorder are very similar to the diagnostic features of substance use disorders and gambling disorder. The gaming prompts a neurological response that influences feelings of pleasure and reward, sometimes resulting in addictive behavior. Excessive gaming can also be connected to other mental health issues, like depression, bipolar disorder, or autism.
Critics warn that the new designation might cause unnecessary concern among parents and may risk stigmatizing too many young video players. The percentage of video game players with a compulsive problem is likely to be extremely small, estimated at around 2 percent of gamers. WHO hopes that inclusion of gaming disorder in the classification will stimulate debate as well as further research and international collaboration.