“Gaming disorder” should be considered a mental health disorder, according to the latest edition of the World Health Organization’s diagnostic handbook. But there’s reason to be skeptical: there’s no medical consensus and many researchers still aren’t convinced this disorder exists.
The WHO added the disorder to the 11th edition of its International Statistical Classification of Diseases (ICD), which is used to classify health conditions. (It’s similar to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, published in the US, but the ICD covers more than psychiatric disorders and is used internationally.) Three criteria are necessary to diagnose someone with gaming disorder: gaming is strongly preferred over other activities, the patient does not stop gaming even when there are negative consequences like seeing their friends less or doing badly at their job, and the compulsive gaming strains the patient’s life or relationships. This pattern needs to be in effect for at least a year, according to the WHO.
“I’m not creating a precedent,” Vladimir Poznyak, a WHO member that proposed the new diagnosis, told CNN. The WHO is simply following “the trends, the developments, which have taken place in populations and in the professional field.”
Still, the decision is sure to be controversial given ongoing research on the topic. When it comes to the DSM, for example, internet gaming disorder is in a special section for conditions that need more research to figure out if they’re real. In 2016, experts wrote a letter to the WHO recommending against adding gaming disorder to the ICD. They claim that existing research on the supposed disorder is poor and there is plenty of fighting, but no medical consensus. Plus, “the act of formalizing this disorder, even as a proposal, has negative medical, scientific, public-health, societal and human rights fallout that should be considered,” they write, advocating caution.
“I’m a clinician and a researcher, so I see people who play video games and believe themselves to be on the lines of addicted,” psychologist Anthony Bean told CNN. But, Bean adds, the new criteria are too broad and don’t differentiate between mild and severe forms of the disease. “It’s a little bit premature to label this as a diagnosis.”