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World Health Organization moves closer to recognizing ‘gaming disorder’

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Would place another destructive activity alongside gambling addiction

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has made another step forward in formalizing the concept of video game addiction. Draft language published earlier this week would add an official description for “gaming disorder” to the WHO’s diagnostic manual for the first time.

The International Compendium of Diseases (ICD) is the WHO’s version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, commonly referred to as the DSM. The 11th version of the ICD is due out in 2018, and experts have finally settled on a first draft. It is the first time that the ICD has included an entry for gaming, placing it in the same category as the disorders related to drugs, alcohol and gambling.

Gaming disorder is characterized by a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour (‘digital gaming’ or ‘video-gaming’), which may be online (i.e., over the internet) or offline, manifested by: 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. The behaviour pattern is of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning. The pattern of gaming behaviour may be continuous or episodic and recurrent. The gaming behaviour and other features are normally evident over a period of at least 12 months in order for a diagnosis to be assigned, although the required duration may be shortened if all diagnostic requirements are met and symptoms are severe.

In August, Polygon spoke with Dr. Anthony M. Bean, a licensed clinical psychologist in Texas, who called the concept of video game addiction misguided at best, and dangerous at worst. His paper, published earlier this year, calls into question both the underlying research used to create the category, as well as the motives of those choosing to formalize its diagnosis.

“We raise the potential that video game addiction is a ‘thing’ for the psychiatric and medical community less because empirical research has demonstrated a clear foundation,” the paper states, “but rather because video game addiction is a ‘thing’ in the general public’s eye. That is to say, video game addiction offers the potential for grant funding, practice opportunities for members of professional societies and political influence not offered by other potential behavioral addictions.”

Dr. Vladimir Poznyak, coordinator of the Management of Substance Abuse department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse for the WHO, refuted those claims.

“There was not any pressure from WHO Member States to include ‘gaming disorder’ in the [ICD],” he told Polygon in an email, “and the decision made was based entirely on the available scientific evidence and experiences with such health conditions in different countries.”