Journalists and academics clash over the World Health Organization’s ‘gaming disorder’ classification

    
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Ever since the World Health Organization decided it will include its “gaming disorder” classification in its upcoming disease classification manual revision, game journalists, mainstream journalists, and academics have been enjoying a field day fighting over whether it’s justified and what the ramifications will be. As we’ve previously noted, 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.”

Eurogamer, for example, ran a story from an editor who discussed how he personally was addicted to World of Warcraft. He calls the opposition to WHO’s classification “juvenile,” suggesting that it’s really about “the fear of facing up to uncomfortable truths about game design.”

“Developers want you to become addicted to their games, which is understandable because if people are hooked on your game it suggests it’s really fucking good. The grind, loot, loot boxes, levelling up, infinite progression, prestige, battle passes, experience points, the numbers, the numbers and even more numbers, all going up – this is the guts of popular video games today. Keep us in the game, keep us engaged, keep us caring and then the recurring revenue rolls in. In this context, it seems reasonable that something along the lines of a gaming disorder might actually be a useful thing to think about. To do the ‘talk to the hand ‘cos the face ‘aint listening’ thing to the WHO on this is, well, it’s not a good look.”

Of course, it’s not just childish gamers and self-interested industry reps sounding the alarm here.

Mainstream press initially embraced the classification, some in absurd, anti-gamer ways, but longer-form pieces now emerging are more critical. The Atlantic, for example, has taken up The Guardian’s suggestion that WHO is operating under political pressure – “especially from Asian countries,” one researcher admitted – rather than in the best interests of health or science. The Atlantic’s piece further echos researchers who’ve pointed out that WHO is muddying the meaning of “addiction” and essentially “cherry-picking” gaming as a target, rather than myriad other internet activities – like smartphones.

This week, The New York Times’ science page has joined the fray with a piece that lends credence to the idea that WHO is blowing a “bad habit” out of proportion.

“I.G.D. is a case study in what happens when researchers become convinced that a bad habit has become something different: a disorder. The studies pile up and the notion takes on a life of its own – one that may or may not be persuasive to putative ‘patients.'”

The American Psychological Association remains opposed to the classification as well, specifically because of the moral panic problem that could actually hamper not just emerging tech but research into potential disorders. “The Division is opposed to these new disorders as the division does not feel that current research is able to support the inclusion of this disorder as a mental-health diagnosis and the potential for unintended negative consequences is significant,” the APA says.

And of course, the widely distributed paper by three dozen academics from around the globe earlier this year agreed there may indeed be merit in the “gaming disorder” argument and acknowledged the social benefit in recognizing it, but it also argued that WHO’s conclusions aren’t supported by sufficient high-quality research and that even academics in the field 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.

Further reading:

Source: NYT, Atlantic. Thanks, Sally.
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rafael12104

An addiction? That is such bullshit. Look, by their definition, anybody can be addicted to anything. TV, Music, Motorcycles, etc. etc. Basically, anything that you can use to escape your daily life can become and addiction. LOL!

You would think that WHO would just stick with real science and yet that is exactly what they fail to do.

It is tragic that while we have an opiod epedemic, WHO is tackling the scourge that is video game addiction.

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Robert Mann

WHO is the UN. International government has proven time and again that they can manage to somehow be even less competent than any other government. All that, without any actual power… makes for a lot of ego clashing with reality.

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Bullwraith

I was listening to a tech news podcast a few days after the WHO announcement and they did a segment on this with a clinical shrink as a guest. He could barely contain his glee that insurance companies will likely have to start covering the sessions with his future gaming disorder patients.

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Utakata

And Skepchick weighs in…

…not sure I entirely agree with Ms. Watson on this. But she is fairly good at separating the flimflam from the wheat in general, so to speak. o.O

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Teh Beardling

My question is, why does it need its own classification? If you are addicted you are addicted. If it is negatively impacting your life to the point of failing basic self care or are harming your physical health, what you are addicted to is irrelevant. It’s like asking a drowning person what kind of water they are drowning in. It doesn’t matter they just need help.

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Jeffery Witman

In many places you can’t get treatment without a recognized diagnosis. That’s why.

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Jeffery Witman

I don’t see the problem with the definition given by WHO. That’s how addiction is defined for almost anything else. If you’re skipping basic daily activities like bathing, going to work, coming actual food, etc, because you’re too busy leveling your latest paladin, you definitely have a problem. If you get fired, sick, or evicted because of that and STILL keep doing it you have a behavioral disorder of some sort. Call it gaming disorder or roll it up with the other addiction disorders. Either way, when your life is negatively affected by something and you keep going back to it, that’s not good.

If you disagree with it, let me ask how many of you know what a WoW Widow is? How many of you know someone like that? We’ve recognized the existence of the addictive properties of many online games for a long time. Doesn’t it make sense that those addictive elements would actually have cumulative negative effects on some people?

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styopa

Except as Popper said “A theory that explains everything, explains nothing”.

Yes, we all recognize addictive behavior – if someone is abandoning loved-ones, food, basic hygiene, etc that is absolutely addiction, whether it’s bowling, knitting, or square dancing.

To call out electronic gaming specifically as a source is to state that it has some special ability to induce such behaviors, and I think that is (at best) completely unproved. Are they going to name specific disorders for every possible activity humans can do? That would just be silly – and pointless.

Look, I play video games all the time. I love video games, and probably played them some times in my life when I should have been doing some other constructive thing. I well understand the allure.

Personally, I see this as simply the corporate medical community giving their benediction to the identification of a whole new crop of potential pharma drug consumers.

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Jeffery Witman

Not all activities are created equally. Your examples are like trying to say cocaine is just another substance like pizza. Video games are intentionally created with addictive components, first as motivation to keep playing, and later as motivation to keep paying money. We recognize gambling addiction as its own disorder that needs treatment because of the addictive nature of the activity. There’s no crocheting addiction disorder because it’s not an activity that lends itself to excessive addictive behaviors. Even if you don’t believe that loot boxes in electronic games prey those with gambling addictions, the very structure of most video games is built on hooking a person so they keep coming back. That’s going to catch some people in a very bad way that other activities without those properties would not.

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Sunken Visions

First of all, gambling compulsive disorders are not addiction disorders. Second, substances like cocaine have never been proven to be physically addictive. They can cause severe physiological changes, but the hypothesized ‘physical hooks’ do not actually exist.

Addiction is a symptom of other problems like depression. People with such disorders becomes obsessed with things that distract them from reality and make them feel better. Drugs, games, food, sex, etc… are all such things that people abuse when they suffer from such problems.

Classifying any addiction specifically by whatever an individual decides to abuse is a blatant attempt to hide the growing problems within our society.

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starbuck1771

The majority of things in life can have addictive property’s yet WHO doesn’t classify them. BTW crocheting can be addictive as much as gaming after all they use it for therapy for soldiers just like cycling. Nicotine and Caffeine maybe should be banned or severely regulated as well. Personally the WHO classification is a political stunt. After all this argument has gone on for decades and what has changed? Nothing! So why classify it now? This is nothing more then a continuation of the games make people violent or suicidal arguments of old. The WHO has very little to back up their side of this. Do the research and you will see the politics behind this. Watch Rona Jaffes Mazes & Monsters while your at it.

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Cosmic Cleric

So why classify it now?

Maybe because now game making companies are using addictive means to keep you paying/playing, where in the past that didn’t happen?

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Cosmic Cleric

To call out electronic gaming specifically as a source is to state that it has some special ability to induce such behaviors, and I think that is (at best) completely unproved. Are they going to name specific disorders for every possible activity humans can do? That would just be silly – and pointless.

Sex abuse, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, etc. We do catagorize them, as their treatment is different in many cases.

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styopa

Because they happen to be called out specifically is not necessarily any more justifiable than electronic gaming. I’d say it’s at the least disingenuous if not outright dishonest to lump together external chemically-induced addictions like tobacco, alcohol, or drugs with behavioral addictions, like knitting.
The psychological profession might call sex addiction a thing; I’d argue that most people would commonsensically disagree.

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Stiqman

An industry making health observations on their own product is worse than useless. Like, cigarettes don’t cause cancer either.

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Dread Quixadhal

I’d like to take a moment to remind everyone about the most CRITICAL addiction known to mankind! It’s one that affects every single living human being, and yet NOBODY seems to be doing anything about it!

Why does the World Health Organization not issue immediate warnings and calls to action regarding the horrible addiction to a gaseous mixture of oxygen and nitrogen? It affects 100% of humans alive today, and the addiction becomes irreversible within seconds of birth!

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Schlag Sweetleaf

:)

I'M YOUR PUPPET.gif
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Utakata

I feel the urge to keep clearing my throat if I stare at that too long. :(

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Bruno Brito

“Developers want you to become addicted to their games, which is understandable because if people are hooked on your game it suggests it’s really fucking good. The grind, loot, loot boxes, levelling up, infinite progression, prestige, battle passes, experience points, the numbers, the numbers and even more numbers, all going up – this is the guts of popular video games today. Keep us in the game, keep us engaged, keep us caring and then the recurring revenue rolls in. In this context, it seems reasonable that something along the lines of a gaming disorder might actually be a useful thing to think about. To do the ‘talk to the hand ‘cos the face ‘aint listening’ thing to the WHO on this is, well, it’s not a good look.”

Sooo…cigarettes and alcohol when?

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TheDonDude

Er, not sure what you’re asking here. Cigarettes and alcohol are definitely health issues already.