World Heath Organization to classify ‘gaming disorder’ as mental health disorder

The World Health Organization will possibly classify “gaming disorder” as a mental health disorder in the 11th revision of the International Classification of Disease in 2018.

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Photo credit: Jian Bautista

The drafted document, posted on WHO’s website, describes the disorder as “a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior (‘digital gaming’ or ‘video-gaming’), which may be online (i.e., over the internet) or offline.”

Other characteristics include prioritizing gaming over other activities, life interests and responsibilities, which can lead to impairment in social, educational and occupational areas.

Christian Marcale is the president of UAA’s eSports Club, which was formed last semester in an effort to let gamers compete on a collegiate level, particularly for a popular game like League of Legends. He says that gaming can be a stress reliever and bring people together, but if it begins to affect daily life, then it could be a problem.

“If it affects your daily life and wellbeing, that’s when you should look into whether this is an addiction or a hobby. … For me, I play like four or five hours a day but it doesn’t affect my school or my work life,” Marcale said.

There are those who play even longer as professional gamers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are addicted.

“Pro players play, like, sixteen hours a day to stay good and stay competitive but I don’t think they’re addicted to it,” Marcale said. “I definitely think there’s average gamers out there that could have gaming addiction.”

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Vivian Gonzalez, associate professor in UAA’s psychology department and a licensed clinical psychologist, isn’t sure she sees why playing games is being singled out by WHO.

There are other examples of activities that can be similarly diagnosed, such as internet pornography and social media.

“Why do we need a disorder that’s specific to gaming? There’s lots of problems that people have related to spending their time poorly, which is essentially what the gaming diagnosis is suggesting,” Gonzalez said. “We have folks that are doing the same thing with internet pornography, people are spending too much on Facebook, and we’re not proposing a specific disorder for that.”

Gambling is the only other non-substance-related addictive disorder classified in both the ICD and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Unlike gaming disorder, it’s unique in that it has severe consequences such as a large amount of debt and even losing one’s home, Gonzalez said.

Lawrence Juan enjoys playing games like Overwatch and he says that one problem with classifying gaming disorder might be the response from the public.

“If the world knows about this, they’ll probably want us to stop playing games and focus on our health more,” Juan said.

Gonzalez also sees the possibility of stigmatizing playing video games.

Since it’s not an uncommon pastime and hobby, the classification of the disorder might open doors for incorrect diagnoses. Parents that are concerned about their child’s affinity for games could assume gaming disorder.

“I can see parents bringing their kids in to get treated for a disorder, but the treatment might be: limit the kid’s time on the video game console,” Gonzalez said.