This week, the World Health Organization added “gaming disorder” to its list of International Classification of Diseases, drawing praise from one mental health expert who applauded the crucial first step in addressing a mounting epidemic.
“The World Health Organization’s decision to acknowledge the video game addiction is a good first step in addressing a growing problem,” said Dr. Michael K. Horne, director of Clinical Services for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington and alumni of the Institute for Psychological Sciences at Divine Mercy University.
“At best, video games are a distraction that prevent genuine encounters occurring between friends, family, and loved ones. At worst, video game addiction can have severe negative ramifications on the health of the person,” Horne told CNA.
“Gaming disorder” will be known, according to W.H.O., as a clinical case of video gaming behavior which leads to distress or significant impairment in personal, family, social, education or occupational functioning.
This same disorder was recognized in 2013 by the American Psychiatric Association as a condition for further study, and on Monday was officially added as an International Classification of Disease, which will be officially adopted in 2019.
The W.H.O. noted that gaming disorder “affects only a small proportion of people who engage in digital or video-gaming activities,” but those who play video games should be alerted to “the amount of time they spend on gaming activities, particularly when it is to the exclusion of other daily activities.”
The gaming industry was critical of the gaming disorder designation, saying there was not enough evidence to formalize a disorder, calling the W.H.O.’s classification “deeply flawed.” Instead, they argued that video games are “a useful tool,” to acquire “competencies, skills and attitudes required for a successful life in a digital society.”
The official W.H.O. designation was assigned in an effort to destigmatize the addiction, make video game addicts more willing to seek treatment, prompt therapists to provide help for the condition, and encourage insurance companies to cover treatment for it.
“I have patients who come in suffering from an addiction to Candy Crush Saga, and they’re substantially similar to people who come in with a cocaine disorder,” said Dr. Petros Levounis, chairman of the psychiatry department for Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, according to the New York Times.
“Their lives are ruined, their interpersonal relationships suffer, their physical condition suffers,” he continued.
Around 2.6 billion people around the world play video games, according to the Entertainment Software Association – two-thirds of which reside in the U.S. The industry itself rakes in billions in revenue, projecting to reach $180.1 billion globally within the next three years.
While more and more mental health professionals are seeing a connection between poor functionality and gaming addiction, there is little insurance coverage for people seeking treatment.
The condition can also present with other symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, sleep deprivation, aggressive behavior and suicidal thoughts, making the disorder harder to diagnose – especially for health care professionals who have not been equipped to treat gaming disorder.
“We don’t know how to treat gaming disorder,” said Professor Nancy Petry of the University of Connecticut.
“It’s such a new condition and phenomenon,” she continued.
Currently, there are no formal organizations in existence to set treatment standards for gaming disorder. However, a few online groups have been formed to help addicts find community, such as StopGaming and the On-Line Gamers Anonymous forum. Some rehab centers in Asia have also been specifically designed to help gaming addicts.
The gaming disorder classification comes in the wake of other growing technology addictions. The New York Times reported that Apple recently released a new software to help consumers scale back on the amount of time they spend on their phones, while Facebook users have joined the #DeleteFacebook campaign in an effort to manage their privacy and social media addictions.