"Gaming Disorder" Is A Disease, World Health Organization Decides; Industry Responds

The WHO adds "gaming disorder" to its database of diseases.

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The World Health Organization, the public health division of the United Nations, has officially added "gaming disorder" to its registry of officially recognized diseases. This happened over the weekend when the WHO officially adopted the 11th revision of its International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-11). All 194 members of the WHO voted unanimously to adopt the revision.

According to the WHO, "gaming disorder" is characterized by a "pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour" online or offline. The official description goes on to say that gaming disorders can include the following: "1) impaired control over gaming (e.g., onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination, context); 2) increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities; and 3) continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences."

People who are deemed to have the "gaming disorder" run the risk of "significant impairment" to their personal, family, social, education, and occupational lives, according to the WHO. The description goes on to say that "gaming disorder" can be a continuous condition or it can be episodic in nature. For it to be suggested that a person has "gaming disorder," they would display these behaviour patterns for a year or longer.

The "gaming disorder" disease will become officially recognized by the WHO on January 1, 2022. According to GI.biz, the WHO came to its conclusion based on consultations with experts from a variety of backgrounds.

In January, when the WHO first announced it would consider recognizing "gaming disorder," the US video game industry group, ESA, said the designation "recklessly trivializes real mental health issues.”

"Just like avid sports fans and consumers of all forms of engaging entertainment, gamers are passionate and dedicated with their time," the ESA--which lobbies on behalf of the video game industry to protect its interests--said in a statement. "Having captivated gamers for more than four decades, more than 2 billion people around the world enjoy video games."

"The World Health Organization knows that common sense and objective research prove video games are not addictive. And, putting that official label on them recklessly trivializes real mental health issues like depression and social anxiety disorder, which deserve treatment and the full attention of the medical community," the statement continued.

At the time, the ESA said it strongly encouraged the WHO to reverse the action, but now that it has been officially adopted, it remains to be seen if there are any appeal possibilities.

It's not just the ESA that's hitting back at the WHO over this decision. A statement attributed to the global video game industry associations--including the ESA (USA), ESA Canada (Canada), IGEA (Australia and New Zealand), ISFE (Europe), K Games (South Korea), and UKIE (United Kingdom)--says the WHO reached its decision "without the consensus of the academic community." The consequences could be far reaching and might achieve the opposite of what the WHO is setting out to do, according to the statement.

"There is significant debate among medical and professionals about today's WHO action. We are concerned they reached their conclusion without the consensus of the academic community," reads a line from the statement. "The consequences of today's action could be far-reaching, unintended, and to the detriment of those in need of genuine help."

It continues: "We encourage and support healthy game play by providing information and tools, such as parental controls, that empower billions of people around the world to manage their play to ensure it remains enjoyable and enriching. As with all good things in life, moderation is key and that finding the right balance is an essential part of safe and sensible play."

Last week, before the WHO decision came down, Sony's CEO talked about how the video game industry needs to do more to promote healthy gaming. "We need to take it seriously and adopt countermeasures," he told reports (via Kyodo News).

Some games are already implementing features to promote healthy gaming behaviors. Recently, PUBG Mobile introduced a new feature that sends pop-ups to young players to remind them to put the game down and take a break.

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