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WHO Classifies Video Game Addiction as Mental Health Disorder

'Gaming Disorder' is defined as reoccurring gaming habit so severe that it takes precedence over other life interests.

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The World Health Organization has officially added video game addiction to its list of potential mental health disorders. Named “Gaming Disorder,” the condition is defined as reoccurring gaming habit so severe that it takes “precedence over other life interests,” and it will be listed in WHO’s 11th International Classification of Diseases.

While countries like South Korea and the United Kingdom have been treating video game addiction for years, this is a big step in calling attention to a growing mental health issue. “It is significant because it creates the opportunity for more specialized services. It puts it on the map as something to take seriously,” Dr. Richard Graham, lead technology addiction specialist at the Nightingale Hospital in London, told the BBC. 

Graham was quick to acknowledge, however, that the new classification could result in some misdiagnosis, and that both parents and doctors need to consider a full picture of the person’s behaviors before making an assessment. “It could lead to confused parents whose children are just enthusiastic gamers,” he said. 

The symptoms of gaming disorder include the inability to control when ⏤ and for how long⏤ you play video games, placing a high priority on gaming over other activities, and continued obsessive behavior despite excessive gameplay resulting in negative life outcomes. Graham has encountered video game addiction before and says that determining if someone has an addiction to video games requires understanding how much “neurological real-estate” the hobby takes up.

For example, one 9-year-old girl in the UK is being treated by an addiction specialist after she secretly spent hundreds of dollars on Fortnite in-game purchases before one of her parents found her playing the game while sitting in a puddle of her own urine. Despite her parents setting reasonable time limits, she had been secretly staying up all night playing the game. Beyond that, others who have been afflicted by gaming disorder have exhibited all the signs of drug addiction. Everything from lying and stealing to defensive and aggressive behavior. That said, most kids find a way to integrate the hobby into their daily lives in a healthy way.

The last time the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases was published was in 1992, well before the advent of sophisticated gaming systems like the Nintendo 64 (1996) or Sony Playstation (1994) and the growth in popularity of both online and professional gaming.