Gaming Disorder: Understanding its Recent Inclusion in the ICD

By Charles O'Connor

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There is no disputing that are in the midst of a digital age, with most of us having access to powerful technology at our fingertips. The rise in popularity of video games has coincided with rapid advances in technology. From computer games to gaming consoles like Xbox and play station 4, children and adults alike love gaming and, are doing so at higher rates than ever. Most have a healthy relationship with gaming, doing it to unwind at the end of the night or a casual hobby during their free time. However, there is a subset of gamers for whom it becomes an unhealthy obsession, ignoring the responsibilities of their lives so they can compulsively play their game(s) of choice.

This has lead the World Health Organization to classify this phenomenon as a mental health disorder, called gaming disorder, which they have included in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). The WHO has identified three major diagnostic characteristics of gaming disorder. In order to be diagnosed, someone has to display impaired control over their gaming habits, increasing priority given to gaming over other interests and activities, and the continuation and escalation of gaming activities despite negative consequences. These diagnostic characteristics share striking similarities to gambling and substance abuse disorders, and in order to be diagnosed, someone has to have been displaying these systems for at least 12 months. At the moment, cognitive behavioral therapy is utilized as an approach to treat gaming disorders, and gaming addiction specific facilities are now becoming a reality.

Despite the classification by the WHO, there are many medical professionals who are opposed to gaming use disorders inclusion in the ICD. One Psychologist, Dr. Bean, at a mental health clinic in Texas stated his belief that most patients he sees who game on an unhealthy level were usually simply using it as a coping mechanism to deal with anxiety or depression. He has also criticized the diagnostic criteria used by the WHO as being too broad, saying there is no way to quantifiably diagnose a mild or severe case of the disorder, which leaves the diagnosis in the subjective hands of whichever particular clinician handling the case. He also stated the type of game played by a patient can play a significant role in their relationship with gaming. All in all, while bean doesn’t disagree gaming disorder exists, he believes the diagnosis is a slippery slope, as anything could be considered a behavioral disorder by this criteria, such as watching too much football.

Disorder or not, excessive gaming is definitely an injurious behavior for some people. Whether it’s its own disorder, or a symptom of a different underlying mental health issue, excessive gaming should be addressed if it’s causing significant problems in one’s life. The WHO’s classification and it’s inclusion in the ISC should spur more research, which in turn will hopefully help improve our relationship with gaming.

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