The World Health Organization advances its ‘gaming disorder’ classification in spite of heavy criticism


The World Health Organization has gone ahead with the inclusion of “gaming disorder” in the publication of its most recent edition of its disease classification manual. It’s expected to be adopted by member nations next year and won’t take effect until 2022. According to WHO,

“Gaming disorder is characterized by a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour, which may be online or offline, manifested by: 1) impaired control over gaming; 2) increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities; and 3) continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”

The organization announced its proposal for the new classification last year and was met with considerable pushback from a wide cross-section of both industry partisans and independent academics.

You might expect groups like the Electronic Software AssociationUK Interactive Entertainment, and the Higher Education Video Game Alliance to oppose the move – HEVGA said it would “stigmatize a pastime that billions of players enjoy without issue around the world” and “warp continued research” – but it’s the academics that ought to give us pause. Multiple experts have already pointed out the flaws in the classification, noting that the American Psychological Association does not recognize gaming disorder as an addiction, that existing research does not support the conclusion, and that more research is badly needed before WHO’s conclusion should be taken seriously. A paper by three dozen academics from around the globe earlier this year admitted that there may indeed be merit in the “gaming disorder” argument and acknowledged the social benefit in recognizing it, but it also argued that there exists insufficient high-quality research undergirding the WHO’s conclusions. The researchers further noted that even academics still do not agree on what exactly constitutes gaming disorder, never mind the clinicians who will be expected to diagnose and treat such a condition.

When GIbiz interviewed WHO earlier this year, the group claimed to the publication that “there is increasing and well-documented evidence of clinical relevance of these conditions and increasing demand for treatment in different parts of the world,” but it either didn’t provide those sources or provided links that did not sufficiently support its claims. The GIbiz piece also made clear that at least one of WHO’s goals is to legitimize the idea of a disorder for those countries that refuse to fund health services related to it otherwise. The Guardian further exposed this bias, noting that WHO has admitted it’s “been under enormous pressure, especially from Asian countries,” to include the classification.

We’ve covered the subject of online games and internet addiction at length over the last few years; this piece by MOP’s Andrew Ross is worth a look if you’re interested in an overview of actual modern research on the topic. Gaming psychology expert Patrick Markey is another good follow to bring you up to speed.

Further reading:

Source: WAPO, GIbiz, CNN, BBC. Thanks, Alex and Sally.
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