Academics argue WHO’s ‘gaming disorder’ is arbitrary, criticize lack of evidentiary transparency


Researchers and self-regulatory bodies are continuing their denouncement of the World Health Organization’s plan to classify “gaming addiction” as a “gaming disorder.” The Entertainment Software Association sent ’round a press release this past week rattling off trade groups in the US, Canada, Europe, Brazil, Korea, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, all of which stand in opposition to the plan – as you’d expect.

The more interesting part of the PR is the ESA’s promotion of an independent paper – not one the ESA or the trade bodies financially sponsored, mind you – written by three dozen academics from around the globe urging the WHO to “postpone the formalization” of the disorder.

A weak scientific basis for gaming disorder: Let us err on the side of caution by Antonius van Rooij et al. is still in pre-print before it releases in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, but you can grab the draft and its abstract right now if you’re curious. The authors acknowledge that there may be merit in the “gaming disorder” argument and indeed there may be social benefit in recognizing it but that there exists insufficient high-quality research undergirding the WHO’s conclusions.

The researchers lay out suggestions for research constructs; point out that even academics still do not agree on what exactly constitutes gaming disorder, never mind clinicians; note the likelihood of sparking “moral panic” and stigmatizing games unduly; and request a “rationale for focusing on gaming in particular versus a more general behavioral addictions concept.”

“A behavioral addiction definition focused purely on video games is on its face arbitrary. A convincing rationale for focusing on gaming, rather than the myriad of other activities one might overdo, is lacking. We acknowledge that some individuals may overdo gaming, just as they may overdo social media, work, or sex, or tan to excess, or, indeed, dance. […] Yet, only gaming disorder has been proposed for ICD-11 inclusion, with no formal or transparent review of the evidence quality for any of the various addictions.”

Further reading:

Source: van Rooij et al., press release, GIbiz
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