'Gaming Disorder' officially recognized as disease by World Health Organization (Updated)

Update: The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially recognized "Gaming Disorder" as a disease. In response, industry representatives from around the world immediately called on the WHO to rethink its decision, saying it was "not based on sufficiently robust evidence".

The long-awaited decision was agreed by WHO member states at the agency's 72nd World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland today. The WHO says the condition, included in 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), is characterized by "persistent or recurring gaming behavior" that causes a "significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning".

In the WHO's definition, the disorder manifests in three ways: "impaired control" over gaming, an individual prioritizing gaming over "other life interests and daily activities", and continued gaming activity in "despite the occurrence of negative consequences" (see original story below for more detail).

Gaming Disorder was first proposed as an addictive behavior in December 2017, with the full definition finalized in June 2018.

In a joint statement, games industry bodies from Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, South Africa, and Brazil said the WHO should "re-examine" its decision "at an early date".  

“The WHO is an esteemed organization and its guidance needs to be based on regular, inclusive, and transparent reviews backed by independent experts. ‘Gaming disorder’ is not based on sufficiently robust evidence to justify its inclusion in one of the WHO’s most important norm-setting tools," said the statement, jointly made by organisations such as the Entertainment Software Association, The Association for UK Interactive Entertainment (UKIE) and the Interactive Software Federation of Europe (ISFE).

Original story:

The World Health Organization proposed that "Gaming Disorder" be classified as an addictive behavior in December 2017, then nailed the definition down—complete with separate online and offline categories—in June 2018. This weekend, as reported by Variety, the WHO will make its final decision on whether to classify gaming addiction as a disorder at the 72nd World Health Assembly, which is currently underway.

The online and offline definitions in the most recent ICD-11 are essentially identical: Both are "characterized by a pattern of persistent or recurring gaming behavior," with online gaming "primarily conducted over the internet" and offline gaming obviously not. In both cases, the proposed disorder manifests in three ways: 

  • Impaired control over gaming (e.g., onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination, context)
  • Increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities
  • 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 ICD-11 states. "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."

Game industry bodies including the ESA and the IGDA, as well as members of the medical community, have pushed back against efforts to categorize gaming addiction as a disorder. "Loving games is not a mental health problem. Making games your hobby of choice is not a disorder," the IGDA said in a June 2018 statement. "The WHO's creation of a "gaming disorder" has the potential to do significant and serious harm to people who use games as a coping mechanism for anxiety, depression, and stress-and may encourage doctors to address the symptoms but not the underlying illnesses."

The Variety report states that if the WHO does recognize gaming addiction as a disorder, member states will be given until 2022 to introduce new treatments and preventative measures. The UK's National Health Service has already taken steps in that direction, having opened its first publicly-funded internet addiction clinic in June 2018, shortly after the WHO committed to its "gaming disorder" definition.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.