Battle Breaks Out Over Effort to Classify Video Game Addiction as Mental Illness

  1. Home
  2. Gaming
By Ian Miles Cheong | 2:22 pm, January 30, 2017
Read More

If you play a lot of video games, you have a mental illness—at least according to the World Health Organization.

The WHO believes you suffer from “Gaming Disorder” and wants to include that condition in the latest edition of its International Classification of Diseases, which is used along with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder to treat mental illness. Both classifications are used in the United States.

But over two dozen academics in the fields of interactive media and video games are speaking out against the move in an open letter. They say that the empirical basis for the classification suffers from fundamental issues, and that formalizing the disorder—even as a proposal—will have negative medical, scientific, public-health, societal and human rights fallout.

They might result in premature application of diagnosis in the medical community and the treatment of abundant false-positive cases, especially for children and adolescents. Secondly, research will be locked into a confirmatory approach, rather than an exploration of the boundaries of normal versus pathological. Thirdly, the healthy majority of gamers will be affected negatively. We expect that the premature inclusion of Gaming Disorder as a diagnosis in ICD-11 will cause significant stigma to the millions of children who play video games as part of a normal, healthy life.

The academics are concerned that the classification draws from low-quality research and that it leans too much on substance abuse and gambling criteria, and isn’t based on research into video games.

“Gaming Disorder” is defined as “persistent or recurrent gaming behavior characterized by an impaired control over gaming.” In other words, an addiction to playing video games.

If “Gaming Disorder” is included in the ICD, it could lead to restrictions on marketing and advertising for video games, and would also require large labels on video games warning them of their health risks, like those seen on tobacco products.

“Using symptoms reminiscent of substance abuse to apply to gaming behaviors too often pathologizes normal behavior resulting in high false positive rates,” writes (requires login) Dr. Daniel Kardefelt-Winther.

“There is no evidence that video games represent a more significant addiction risk than many other potentially problematic behaviors including sex, eating, overwork, overexercize, etc.,” says Kardefelt-Winther.

If the classification passes, can we expect to see a disorder for binge-watching Netflix, too?

Ian Miles Cheong is a journalist and outspoken media critic. You can reach him through social media at @stillgray on Twitter and on Facebook.