Gaming Disorder - Good or Bad Call?

Val Villamil, Coordinator Content - Policy and Research

If you have not decided yet if declaring a ‘gaming disorder' as an addictive behaviour disorder is wrong or right, it’s probably because neither answer is correct. In short, it's not all good, but also not all bad.

It sounds confusing. Some of the researchers who voted on this decision have acknowledged that, in the end, including gaming disorder in the International Classification Diseases (ICD) list may be a smart decision, if the WHO gathers strong evidence to support it.

Let’s remember that the recent research study A Weak Scientific Basis for Gaming Disorder: Let Us Err on the Side of Caution, which asked the WHO to hold on giving its decision to add gaming disorder to the ICD, questions the amount and the quality of evidence currently being used by investigators to declare gaming disorder a diagnosable disease.

Click here to know more about the WHO decision. Gaming disorder a disease? Hold on, say researchers.

What exactly does the WHO decision mean?

The most visible consequence of this recent determination is that now the medical world has another identifiable category of malady and associated set of symptoms to diagnose. Simply,  it means that the WHO now offer guidelines to medical professionals for identifying when a person is impaired in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important functional areas due to their gaming habits.

According to the WHO, a person diagnosed with gaming disorder should present, during a period of one year, symptoms including impaired control over gaming, increased priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and the continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.  

The Pros

The supporters of a gaming disorder classification argue that including this disease in the ICD will help those people damaged by their own gaming habits recover successfully.

British doctor Richard Graham, consultant in digital psychiatry and member of the Nightingale Hospital, is one of the specialists who has been defending the inclusion of gaming disorder to the ICD list and in an Op-Ed column published in the British version of the Huffington Post, he explained that the decision will help health services advance their digital maturity:

“This will afford those that get lost within the digital world, or are harmed by it (through, say, bullying or exploitation) the chance of better informed assessments and better chances of recovering what has been lost or damaged,” wrote Graham.

Other positive consequences may be that after the WHO decision, investigators will be able to develop further studies and research on gaming disorders, which many specialists consider are needed.

“It will allow for funding for better studies, and it allows more people to become aware of it.  Having a clinical diagnosis can help narrow down the problematic behaviors, but requires an understanding of the culture in order to get it correct”, said Anthony Bean, a licensed psychologist and Executive Director of the Telos Project, a nonprofit mental health clinic in Fort Worth Texas but who, nevertheless, does not supports the decision.

The Cons

Among the several reasons not to support the inclusion of a gaming disorder in the ICD list, Dr.Bean considers that rampant misunderstanding of video game culture is a serious problem:

“Without a base understanding of the culture, how can one make an assumption and diagnose a condition which they do not understand,” said Bean, author of Working with Video Gamers and Games in Therapy: A Clinician's Guide.

Also, Bean proposes that there is no strong diagnostic criteria, which makes difficult to delineate between mild, moderate, or severe diagnosis of gaming disorder or even to differentiate patients from highly engaged individuals and addicted.

“Without this diagnostic criteria and an understanding of the culture, then the problem becomes a stereotyping issue from a cultural perspective and causes harm because the diagnosis is being driven politically and socially rather than by sound scientific research”, he said.

Is Gaming Disorder More a Symptom than a Disease?

A group of experts has also warned that ‘gaming disorder’ could be more a coping strategy for people with anxiety, depression, or other similar illnesses.

In the study A Weak Scientific Basis for Gaming Disorder: Let Us Err on the Side of Caution, experts caution that some individuals may play video games excessively to avoid or cope with other unpleasant activities, or may do so as part of an existential crisis about the direction of one’s life.

“Much like individuals who have lost a loved one may experience extreme mental states similar to major depressive disorder for an extended period, people who play video games may exhibit extreme behaviors in reaction to a stressor,” reads the study.

For this reason, experts have stated the possibility to first investigate the underlying causes of gaming disorder and work on solutions of these causes in order to find a solution to abnormal gaming habits.

“When the anxiety and depression are appropriately diagnosed then it can be treated appropriately, but labeling it a gaming disorder, this creates a misdiagnosis which will be harmful to treatment and understanding the phenomenon that gamers experience,” said Bean, who cautioned that a misdiagnosis can cause additional psychological harm to the patience.

Do a Barrel Roll and its team of reporters will be following the reactions to the WHO’s decision to include gaming as a disorder on its ICD list. If you would like to offer your own comment, please get in contact with us at