World Health Organization will decide whether gaming disorder is a real disease

This week, World Health Organization will decide on whether to include gaming disorder in its list of official diseases.

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Members of WHO will vote on the eleventh edition of International Classification of Diseases. This iteration, aka ICD-11, adds gaming disorder to WHO’s Compendium of Diseases.

If ICD-11 is adopted in its present form, “gaming disorder” will become the official diagnosis for people who have so little control on how often and how long they play video games that it becomes detrimental to their lives.

The addition of gaming disorder was proposed to ICD-11 in June 2018. Since then, the video game industry, which specifically benefits from players’ engagement, has expressed various degrees of concern.

Video games across all kinds of genres, devices and platforms are enjoyed safely and sensibly by more than 2 billion people worldwide, with the educational, therapeutic, and recreational value of games being well-founded and widely recognised. We are therefore concerned to see ‘gaming disorder’ still contained in the latest version of the WHO’s ICD-11 despite significant opposition from the medical and scientific community. The evidence for its inclusion remains highly contested and inconclusive. We hope that the WHO will reconsider the mounting evidence put before them before proposing inclusion of ‘gaming disorder’ in the final version of ICD-11 to be endorsed next year. We understand that our industry and supporters around the world will continue raising their voices in opposition to this move and urge the WHO to avoid taking steps that would have unjustified implications for national health systems across the world.

Joint statement of games industry organizations

In fact, as early as March 2018, 22 world-wide trade bodies called on WHO to conduct more research before officially recognizing game addiction. Those included the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment (Ukie), the International Software Federation of Europe (ISFE), Entertainment Software Association, Brazilian Union of Games, Interactive Entertainment South Africa, and Korea Association of Game Industry.

The consensus across the industry is that gaming disorder is a symptom  of underlying conditions, rather than a disease in itself.

However, there are also less defensive positions on the issue. Xbox head of operations Dave McCarthy admitted the industry’s “huge responsibility when it comes to the healthy gaming lifestyle.” McCarthy cites Microsoft’s safety features that can help prevent engagement from deteriorating into overuse. These include parental control, protection from offensive imagery and language, human moderation, and even, potentially, screen time reports for adults alerting them that they might want to take a break.

Whatever WHO decides, gaming disorder is already recognized as a disease in South Korea and China.

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