Academics debate WHO ‘gaming disorder’ classification and global political implications


Remember how the World Health Organization is angling to classify gaming addiction as a “gaming disorder”? Researchers and self-regulatory bodies have been pushing back against the move in the US – and apparently in Europe too, as The Guardian reports this week that UK Interactive Entertainment (Ukie) has also said it’s concerned about “the inconclusive nature of the research” upon which the classification is based.

The publication spoke to a Ukie rep as well as multiple academics, one of whom was involved in the WHO committee and supports the classification, and one of whom maintains that research is simply incomplete. Both groups admit that the effect of “disordered gaming” isn’t as strong as gambling disorder itself, and scientists have yet to address why more people don’t succumb to its supposed lure (especially given that a third of the planet games). Comorbidity is also an issue: Is the person really addicted to gaming, or is she gaming because she’s suffering from depression or unable to walk?

Probably the most important part of The Guardian’s piece is the section on Asia; one paper says 10-15% of young people in some Asian countries are affected by the so-called gaming disorder, significantly more than in the west. In fact, the WHO has admitted it’s “been under enormous pressure, especially from Asian countries, to include” the classification. The Guardian indeed covered this before, as last year a group of 26 researchers opposed to the classification made clear their worries about putting politics before health:

“A diagnosis may be used to control and restrict children, which has already happened in parts of the world where children are forced into ‘gaming-addiction camps’ with military regimes designed to ‘treat’ them for their gaming problems, without any evidence of the efficacy of such treatment and followed by reports of physical and psychological abuse.”

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IMHO, as usual, what’s at stake here is money. If GA becomes officially an illness, then it has downstream effects on local legislations on how to treat, handle and accommodate mentally ill people, and above all, on insurance premiums and insurance payouts for diagnosed patients.

Throw in the various treatments and cures that invariably will be sold, and when you consider (as per this article) that a third of the world games, then you’re talking about a very, very large pile (billions) of money at stake.

Let’s not look too far for explanations as to why the whole thing is handled the way it is…

Robert Mann

Or… are they just enjoying an activity, like any other activity? There’s obvious problem points, but the idea that this is actually a life impairing thing for many people seems odd, especially since gaming tends to cost money. You have to make it somehow, which generally means adulting.

IF it is a problem for a person, then help should be available. But that should be between them and their family, and any medical professional that is part of that availability. Not for their government to decide they are in need of adjustment…


Games don’t cause addictions, kids.

Does not check email

…and I can stop drinking any time.


Good for you! I can control my bladder too! o.O


I feel like the whole gaming addiction stuff is more of an emotional reaction to a perceived problem where video games are a symptom/tool of greater issues with things like depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem/sense of worth IRL. Video games are an escape, just like television or books or so on. Trying to create some sort of condition or addiction or mental illness around it seems a bit disingenuous and an attempt to create reasons to regulate the gaming industry in a manner similar to gambling/drugs/alcohol.

Also probably one reason why Asia has a problem with it is probably to do with the fact that life tends to be more stressful over there. Video games are a natural stress reliever because they are loaded with instant gratification and ways to trigger your brain to release whatever chemicals make you feel good. Not only that but the Asian markets are overloaded with F2P titles and a lot of them are P2W, so it targets impulse buyers who get that rush of excitement when they buy something big that suddenly lets them perform way better in a game.

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I don’t understand the “punishing the afflicted” attitude. It would make a lot of sense to me if the sentiment was that governments had been pushing WHO hard for a designation *so that they would have a better framework with which to regulate abusive game design practices.* But so that they can send individuals to camps? No.


No one needs a diagnosis to do it anyway.

ICD 11 isn’t out, yet – while those camps afaik have been around a while. Same goes for general prejudice against gaming and respective “health concerns”. The debate did not start with the WHO moving towards including the diagnosis. Thinking of it, I’d probably prefer those camps over a “discussion” with my granpa back then anytime…

Duey Bear

I suspect gaming addiction is almost always tied to some other psychological problem, as unlike a drug where your body automatically reacts to a substance, the effectiveness of gaming on neurology varies drastically from person to person. Gaming exploits the reward feedback loop in the brain, but the power of that individual mechanic can disappear when the human subject learns exactly how the mechanic works or introspects on whether the reward is worth it.

If you have ever taken public speaking or marketing in college and see what tricks and methods companies and speakers user to draw people in artificially, once you are aware of those tricks, they lose most of their power. Seriously, the pregnant pause for impact is now the most annoying speech method I see people use and whenever I see it I am immediately repulsed because of my knowledge of public speaking. Or in marketing, the “You will be sexy if you use our toothpaste,” ploy; once you become consciously aware of that trick, such advertisements become an annoyance and not a subconscious motivator.

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This is exactly what happened to me with gaming mechanics. When I see mechanics designed to be addictive or make me play / log on more, I recognize them and am annoyed. This took a long time though, for me to reach this point. Think of 5+ years. Maybe if you’re already an adult when you start gaming, it’s easier to see through everything wonder how gaming addiction can be a problem, but when you’re a teenager, it’s a different story.

Sally Bowls

I am cynical enough to believe that what politicians do and what academics decide upon are not that correlated. I.e., IMO, current and future gaming legal restrictions will be driven more by “remember the children” “right here in River City” than by academic papers published, especially for something where they may even be arguing definitions for decades.

This is an existing issue, not a future possibility. I am not an expert (in anything but especially Asian gaming), but the Western articles I have read are that the largest game in the world (MAUs of a hundred million) was popular enough that the Chinese government restricted the time children can play. My guess this is not the last restriction.

My guess: it would not totally surprise me if nothing significant happened within the next five years, but the momentum seems to be building and so I expect legal restrictions on minors’ gaming time/disorder and on lootboxes. I slightly feel the former is more likely to happen first.

In the Q3 call, Activision-Blizzard said people played 40 billion hours of their games over the last year. I love gaming and come down on the side of personal responsibility and freedom, but even I am not sure whether at some point society benefits from this much gaming.

Melissa McDonald

I am cynical enough to believe that what politicians do and what academics decide upon are not that correlated

I believe that is refuted by American politics


You know what is also more common in Asia? Gacha mechanics. Asian games, and in particular the F2P ones, have been using features meant to cause addiction for longer than western developers.

IMHO the big pushback by publishers and their associations is because putting gaming addiction under the same classification as gambling addiction would make it far easier for governments to regulate, or even outright ban, the use of addiction-based techniques to improve monetization.