The World Health Organisation recently included ‘gaming disorder‘ as a new mental health disorder in its latest updated draft version of the International Classification of Diseases.
The disorder has not yet been formally recognized as a condition, it’s under review over the coming year. Not everyone’s convinced that it actually exists: the gaming industry is especially skepital, tending to view this as a moral panic reaction to parents’ raised awareness and dislike of their children spending longer on games such as Fortnite.
What is ‘Gaming Disorder’?
You can read the full definition here. It breaks down into three main elements:
- impaired control over gaming
- increasing priority given to gaming, such that gaming takes precedence over other hobbies/ interests and daily activities
- continuation or escalation of gaming despite negative consequences.
In order for it to be diagnosed, the WHO is suggestion that it needs to be observed over a 12 month period and have resulted in the declining ability of an individual to function in one of more are of social life, such as at work, or within the family.
What’s the evidence base for its existence?
Dr Vladimir Poznyak is one of the main defenders of the idea that VGD is a really existing phenomenon. He points to the fact that the last few years have seen a rising number of cases of ‘gaming addiction’ in several countries around the world, and some governments and charities have even set up treatment programmes, along the line of gambling addiction programmes.
NB – In his defence, Dr VP does say that <1% of gamers are ever likely to suffer from gaming disorder.
Problems with the concept and the evidence…
UKie CEO Dr Joe Twist argues that the WHO definition is based on questionable evidence, and when pushed WHO officials are quite vague about what exactly it is they are worried about.
For example, it is unclear whether certain genres of games are more ‘addictive’ than others, or whether certain triggers (such as rewards structures) within games are the problem…
This episode of ‘Click‘ on iPlayer does quite a good job of summarising the issues surrounding gaming disorder.
What do you think?
Personally I think it’s perfectly reasonable to establish a new disorder, especially when the WHO is clear that it effects only 1% of users – I mean, check the definition, we are talking about SEVERE addiction here. Even someone who plays 40 hours a week wouldn’t necessarily be classified as having gaming disorder.
I think its fairly clear that some computer games have addictive features, which are going to affect a tiny minority in a negative way (very similar to gambling), and the games industry needs to recognize this rather than just ignoring the fact that their products create serious problems for 1% of users.
Having said that, maybe we do need further research which pins down particular genres and features…?