Gaming disorder recognized by World Health Organization
- Francis Osborne
The disorder is characterized by an "impaired control over gaming", an "increasing priority given to gaming over other activities", and "the continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences".
The WHO's latest reference bible of recognised and diagnosable diseases describes addiction to digital and video gaming as "a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour" that becomes so extensive that it "takes precedence over other life interests". It is concerning to see the "gaming disorder" proposal in this draft despite significant opposition from the medical and scientific community. Separate from addiction, this refers to a pattern of gaming that "increases the risk of harmful physical or mental health consequences for the individual or others around this individual". A mental health professional would also address problematic thoughts associated with either stopping playing or the thoughts that keep them gaming, he says.
Some 2.5 billion people - one-in-three worldwide - play some form of free-to-play screen game, especially on cell phones, but the disorder only affects a "small minority", said Saxena. Cases similar to hers, where people place essential body functions such as eating and using the bathroom lower on their survival list than playing video games, are not rare.
Interestingly, the revision also says that compulsively playing video games now qualifies as a new mental health condition. The behavior has to be serious enough that it gets in the way of family, social, education or occupational parts of one's life and normally emerges over a period of a year, though it can come sooner. "Disorders due to addictive behaviors include gambling disorder and gaming disorder, which may involve both online and offline behaviour".
Dr. Mark Griffiths, who has been researching the concept of video gaming disorder for 30 years, said the new classification would help legitimize the problem and strengthen treatment strategies.
"Its inclusion in the ICD would pave way for doctors to diagnose and treat it better, while governments can use it to develop public health strategies to tackle it", Dr Shekhar Saxena, director, department for mental health and substance abuse, WHO, told TOI. "The gaming prompts a neurological response that influences feelings of pleasure and reward, and the result, in the extreme, is manifested as addictive behavior". Welcoming WHO's decision, he said it would bring more acceptance even among the victims that they have a disease and help is available.