Gaming Disorder: Understanding its Recent Inclusion in the ICD

By O'Connor Professional Group

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There is no disputing that we 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 computers built and designed to run video games to gaming powerful consoles like Xbox and PlayStation 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 led the World Health Organization (WHO) to classify this phenomenon as a mental health condition, called Gaming Disorder, and have included it in the 11th addition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). The WHO has identified three major diagnostic characteristics of gaming disorder to be diagnosed. These are impaired control over gaming habits, increasing prioritization of 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 symptoms 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 Disorders inclusion in the ICD. Some Psychologists such as Dr. Anthony Bean, an expert in compulsive gaming and founder of the Telos Project, 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.  This 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 most don’t disagree that gaming disorder exists, some believe the diagnosis is a slippery slope.

Formal 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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