Gaming disorder a disease? Hold on, say researchers

Val Villamil, Content Coordinator - Policy and Research

The decision of the World Health Organization to add gaming as a recognized disorder to the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) could have arrived too early, according to researchers.

The specialists, who recently published a first version of an investigation, cited the lack of good quality evidence to sustain that the use of video games could be considered a disease or addiction.

Although the video game industry has supported the report, it was not funded by any company of the sector, according to the authors. You can read an abstract of this study here: A weak scientific basis for gaming disorder: let us err on the side of caution.

The study, which will be published in the Journal for Behavioral Addictions, came after the WHO included gaming disorder in the 11th draft of the ICD; however, the decision was formalized in mid-June.

“Ultimately, given the gravity of diagnostic classification and its wider societal impact and the low quality of the existing evidence base, we urge our colleagues at the WHO to err on the side of caution for now and postpone the formalization”, reads the abstract of the study, which warns over the possible consequences of considering gaming an addiction.

The risk of abuse of diagnosis is among the consequences of declaring gaming disorder a disease when, according to specialists, there is no clear consensus on its definition, and no strong and exhaustive evidence.

“A move to pathologize gaming could have important ramifications for the potentially stigmatized or misdiagnosed healthy “highly engaged” gamers

Moral panic could be behind declaration of gaming disorder

The researchers also question whether the decision of including gaming as a recognized disorder in the ICD list is being pushed more by moral panic rather than scientific reasons.

In addition, they doubt that declaring gaming a disorder will help reduce moral panic, as the counterpart affirms. In fact, researchers consider that it might result in the opposite effect, leading to unforeseen negative consequences.

“These can result in poorly thought out and ineffectual public policy efforts to restrict gaming time such as South Korea’s “shutdown” law (which blocked online playing for children between 12 AM and 6 AM).”

Negative Media coverage on gaming disorder

Including gaming as a disorder in the ICD list could also prompt other negative consequences on gamers due to external factors such as negative media coverage and stigmatization, according to the study.

“The influence of a gaming disorder diagnosis on wider society and its impact on parents and children everywhere is not something we can afford to ignore in our work”.

However, the researchers leave the door open to, eventually, add gaming as a disorder to the ICD, as long as the possible conclusion is sustained by more exhaustive and quality investigation.

“We acknowledge there could be benefits to formalizing gaming disorder, many of which were highlighted by colleagues in their commentaries, but we think they do not yet outweigh the wider societal and public health risks involved”

What do you think about the decision to declare gaming as a recognized disorder? In future posts, we will survey the opposite side of this debate, including justifications proposed by the WHO for its inclusion, and the strict parameters they have placed on its definition and diagnosis. Let us know and feel free to post any comments!