World Health Organization Recognises Gaming Disorder

The World Health Organization (WHO) is facing criticism after officially recognising “gaming disorder” as a disease.

Established in 1948, the WHO’s goal was to serve as a hub of information and resources for international public health concerns. All 51 countries of the United Nations at the time signed on to the WHO constitution. The organisation subsequently focussed on worldwide disease concerns like tuberculosis and malaria.

The WHO has since drawn criticism throughout the years. This is mostly in relation to religious criticisms and the nature of research used in its decision-making. Officially recognising “gaming disorder” as a disease is therefore just one in a long line of historic controversies.

Gaming Disorder Decision Confirmed

The WHO recently held its 72nd World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland. One of its tasks was to decide if the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) should include “gaming disorder”. Its decision was yes.

The entry into ICD-11 puts gaming disorder in the category of disorders due to addictive behaviours. It official explanation is:

Gaming disorder is characterised by a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour (digital gaming or video gaming), which may be online (i.e., over the internet) or offline, and manifested by:

1. Impaired control over gaming (e.g., onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination, context);
2. Increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities; and
3. Continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences. The behaviour pattern is of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment of personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.

The pattern of gaming behaviour may be continuous or episodic and recurrent; gaming behaviour should usually be evident over a 12 month period or more. However, severe symptoms may lead to a shortened duration.

It took quite some time for the decision from the WHO. After all, the proposal to declare gaming disorder a disease first emerged in December 2017, with a full definition settled in June 2018.

Industry-Wide Pushback Over Gaming Disorder Classification

Before WHO made the final decision, gaming industry companies collaborated and sent joint statements to the WHO to ask for a reconsideration of the classification.

The largest and strongest statement was released in June 2018 and signed by the Entertainment Software Association, European Games Developer Federation, Interactive Games & Entertainment Association, Europe’s Video Games Industry, and similar organisations from Canada, South Africa, Korea, and other parts of the world.

The letter noted the concern of seeing gaming disorder considered for inclusion “despite significant opposition from the medical and scientific community.” The letter further stated that evidence for its inclusion remains “highly contested and inconclusive”. Also mentioned was the fact two billion people around the globe safely play the games considered to have recreational, educational, and therapeutic value.

The outcry from the gaming industry didn’t deter the WHO. Nonetheless, the industry has decided to continue fighting the decision.

After last week’s meeting, more gaming industry giants signed another joint statement. This one included the signatures of organisations from Canada, the United States, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, South Africa, and Brazil.

The statement read, in part:

“The WHO is an esteemed organisation 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.”

Industry Protections

Industry organisations claim that they have put consumer protection tools in place voluntarily in order to protect gamers. This is in addition to various legal national regulatory requirements. These organisations further asserted that they continue to reexamine problem gaming in order to keep players safe. Other arguments presented include helping people with mental and physical illnesses, and developing virtual and augmented reality technology.

Gaming Vs. Gambling

It is widely believed that the gaming disorder designation is aimed at video games and e-gaming. Most experts tend to view gambling separately and belonging to a different category. And gambling tends to be judged much more harshly than gaming.

However, the ICD-11 does show that gambling and gaming are interchangeable with regard to this particular disorder due to addictive behaviour. The gambling disorder section is identical to the gaming disorder entry.

This effectively puts video game addictions into the same category as any type of gambling addiction. Thereby infuriating gaming companies that want to remain separate from gambling associations.

By WHO standards, however, they are one and the same.

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer Newell has been writing about poker and gambling since 2004. As the online gaming sectors have changed and grown, particularly in the United States and Canada, she has followed it all and written about it for websites like World Poker Tour and PokerScout. In her free time, she runs a small business, reads, cooks, and enjoys music.

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