The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially recognized gaming disorder in its international list of illnesses.
Problem gaming deemed a mental health condition
Under its new International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), the WHO has added gaming disorder to the section on addictive disorders. The ICD-11 will be presented at the World Health Assembly in May 2019 for adoption by member states and will come into effect on January 1, 2022.
Back in January, the organization revealed that it was listing gaming addiction as a mental health condition for the first time in its draft ICD-11. At the time, the WHO defined gaming disorder as: “A pattern of gaming behavior (‘digital-gaming’ or ‘video-gaming’) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”
For a gaming disorder diagnoses to be made, the negative pattern of behavior must have been evident for at least 12 months, according to the WHO. However, while the addition of gaming addiction to the ICD was made known in January, not everyone is in agreement with it.
Dr. Joan Harvey, a spokeswoman for the British Psychological Society, is of the opinion that the new designation might cause unnecessary concern among parents, adding: “People need to understand this doesn’t mean every child who spends hours in their room playing games is an addict, otherwise medics are going to be flooded with requests for help.”
Dr. Vladimir Poznyak – a member of the WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, which proposed the new diagnosis to the World Health Assembly – said that the characteristics of gaming disorder are “very similar” to those of substance-use disorders and gambling disorder. He added, though, that the “millions of gamers around the world, even when it comes to the intense gaming, would never qualify as people suffering from gaming disorder.”
In his opinion, the prevalence of the gaming disorder condition is “very low”.
Addiction in gambling
Whether it’s gambling or gaming addiction, both have the potential to impact the lives of the sufferers and those around them.
In Japan, for instance, a government survey published last September determined that an estimated 3.2 million, or 3.6% of Japanese adults, are suspected of suffering from an addiction to gambling. One of the games that is quite popular among Japanese gamblers is pachinko pinball, a type of pinball game that originated in Japan.
Notably, though, while problem gambling was largely seen as an adult affliction, it is now a growing concern among the younger generation too.
In April, the Dutch Gambling Authority (DGA) gave game developers eight weeks to fix illegal in-game loot boxes after discovering that four out of the 10 most popular games had violated Dutch gambling laws. The DGA criticized all of the games involved, arguing that the loot boxes are similar to gambling with a fruit machine or roulette and that they pose a risk to young children.
The Belgium Gaming Commission (BGC) followed suit with its own investigation in May declaring that loot boxes in online games are illegal and should be removed. At the request of Koen Geens, the minister of justice for Belgium, the BGC investigated Star Wars Battlefront II, Overwatch, FIFA 18, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. It found that three of the four had violated Belgium’s gambling laws.
Despite this, the CEO of Electronic Arts (EA) doesn’t think that loot boxes constitute gambling. Tim Miller, the executive director of the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) has also said that loot boxes aren’t gambling because they can’t be cashed out.
Whichever way you look at it, there will always be two sides to an argument, and that is the case with gambling and gaming. However, when the two come together in a way that could potentially impact a child’s life and the lives of those around them, then surely the industry needs to take decisive action for their well-being.