Is “Gaming Disorder” Real?

A tabletop arcade machine provides hours of fun, but some public health officials are worried about gaming’s increasing popularity. So much so, they’re considering adding gaming disorder to its International Classification of Diseases (ICD). These standards, along with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, are used to diagnose mental illness in many countries, including the United States. Is “gaming disorder” a real concern?

The World Health Organization’s Debate

“Gaming disorder” is defined as “persistent or recurrent gaming behavior characterized by an impaired control over gaming.” Even if gaming disorder is a real concern for many individuals, dozens of academics disagree with including it in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) disease classification standards.

The group of dissenters wrote an open letter stating the reasons for their opposition. They believe that the science supporting WHO’s argument for including gaming disorder is flawed because it is built on data gathered from testing gambling addiction and substance abuse. They claim that until research has gathered data based on testing video games alone, it’s not acceptable to enter gaming disorder into the (ICD).

Claiming gaming disorder is an official disease could have a serious fall-out for the gaming industry and for many avid gamers all over the world. The dissenting academia group claims they believe many children will be falsely diagnosed and a newfound stigma will be attached to gaming as a hobby, when in fact the vast majority of gamers don’t exhibit signs of harmful behavior.

What’s the Harm?

If gaming disorder is included in the ICD, new marketing and advertising standards could be applied to the gaming industry. Video games may also be required to post highly visible labels on their packaging, similar to the markings included on cigarette packages.

But in reality, video games have not proven to be a harmful habit equivalent to smoking, drinking or gambling. Until empirical data backs up WHO’s claims that gaming disorder poses a legitimate threat, many experts say they should place the addition of this “disease” to the ICD on hold. The deadline to add the disease to the latest version of the ICD is March 30th – who knows what WHO will do?