World Health Organization: Gaming Addiction is a "Significant Public Health Concern"

World Health Organization: Gaming Addiction is a "Significant Public Health Concern"

"WHO began activities relating to the public health implications of excessive use of the Internet, computers, smartphones and similar electronic devices in 2014."

Recently, the World Health Organization added a description for 'gaming disorder' in its upcoming revision of the International Compendium of Diseases. We reached out to the WHO about the recent addition and learned that the organization began activities related to gaming disorder back in 2014. The inclusion of gaming disorder in ICD-11 was prompted by a consensus of international experts specializing in addictive behavior, something the Entertainment Software Association rebuked in a recent statement.

"WHO began activities relating to the public health implications of excessive use of the Internet, computers, smartphones and similar electronic devices in 2014," WHO media relations spokesperson Tarik Jašarević told USgamer in a statement from WHO's Geneva office. He added that the activities began "in response to concerns expressed by professional groups, WHO collaborating centres, academics and clinicians about health conditions associated with excessive use."

The ICD-11, which is the 11th revision of global standard for reporting diseases, categorizes gaming disorder as "a pattern of persistent or recurring behavior ('digital gaming' or 'video-gaming'), which may be online or offline."

The ICD-11 draft lists three manifestations of gaming disorder:

  • 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
  • 3) Continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.

"Use of the internet, computers, smartphones and other electronic devices has dramatically increased over recent decades. While the increase is associated with clear benefits to users, for example in real-time information exchange, health problems as a result of excessive use have also been documented," the WHO told USgamer in a separate statement. "In a number of countries, the problem has become a significant public health concern."

The Entertainment Software Association, a trade association representing video games, rebuked the WHO's classification in a statement that claimed that "common sense and objective research prove video games are not addictive. And, putting that official label on the recklessly trivializes real mental health issues like depression and social anxiety disorder[.]" The ESA asked the WHO to reconsider officially labeling gaming disorder as a disease.

When asked about the ESA statement, WHO representatives declined to respond, but told USgamer: "A decision of inclusion of 'gaming disorder' in the draft ICD-11 was based on available scientific evidence and a consensus of the international expert group with particular expertise in health and public health implications of addictive behaviours, including [online] and [offline gaming]."

The ICD-11, which has been in development since 2015, is the first major revision to the ICD since ICD-10, which was adopted in 1994. A full revision is expected to come out later in 2018.

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Matt Kim

News Editor

Matt Kim is a former freelance writer who's covered video games and digital media. He likes video games as spectacle and is easily distracted by bright lights or clever bits of dialogue. He also once wrote about personal finance, but that's neither here nor there.

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