Gaming Disorder Is Real But Diagnosing It Properly Will Be Key, Warns Expert

The World Health Organisation will officially recognise gaming addiction this year.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is expected to officially recognise an addiction to video games later this year.

In the draft copy of its International Classification of Diseases (11th Edition), the organisation has included ‘Gaming disorder’ under the umbrella of ‘Disorders due to addictive behaviour’.

With millions of people around the world playing video games, the recognition that its content can become seriously addictive is a significant one.

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However, speaking to Dr Richard Graham, Nightingale Hospital’s Technology Addiction Lead, it’s clear that this recognition comes with some serious caveats including new risks over self-diagnosis.

Before we see his thoughts however, here’s the WHO’s official classification for having a gaming disorder.

Gaming disorder:

Gaming disorder is characterized by a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour (‘digital gaming’ or ‘video-gaming’), which may be online (i.e., over the internet) or offline, manifested by: 1) impaired control over gaming (e.g., onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination, context); 2) increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities; and 3) continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.

The behaviour pattern is of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning. The pattern of gaming behaviour may be continuous or episodic and recurrent. The gaming behaviour and other features are normally evident over a period of at least 12 months in order for a diagnosis to be assigned, although the required duration may be shortened if all diagnostic requirements are met and symptoms are severe.

Dr Richard Graham, Nightingale Hospital’s Technology Addiction Lead

Do you welcome the decision?

I welcome the introduction of Gaming Disorder as it will enable health services to take more seriously the digital lives of the population, and how a small number of individuals can lose control of their gaming. It will help parents and teachers understand better when enthusiastic use tips over into something concerning that will affect that person’s health and life chances.

The World Health Organisation helpfully focuses on the impact of gaming as the key issue, and enthusiastic gaming is not necessarily Gaming Disorder. Gaming Disorder will lead to many useful conversations, and hopefully health practitioners will be better informed in leading them, but it may also become the battleground of conflict between parents and young people. It thus needs to be supported by research, education programmes and better, local supports for those having difficulties.

Is tech/gaming addiction something that’s increasingly becoming more common?

One of the greatest challenges to tracking how common Gaming Disorder is is that the gaming world is growing and evolving. So many factors can contribute to use, such that its prevalence, according to the American Psychiatric Association (2013), is between 1 and 7%.

Part of this variation is due to the fact that different instruments are used in different cultural contexts and for different ages. But this is a fast changing landscape, and gaming is now a massive world in which young people can flourish, whether as celebrity gamers who stream their games, or take part in tournaments, or as YouTubers; use may be increasing, but with a particular ambition, which is not just in-game rewards. As with musicians, athletes or footballers, devoting hours to practice may look like addiction, but has much greater purpose even if there are risks such as injury.

What should be done to prevent the incorrect diagnosis of oneself and/or friends and loved ones?

The diagnosis of Gaming Disorder shouldn’t be casually applied without a detailed analysis of someone’s gaming activities and wider digital life.

As a key aspect of any addiction, conflict with others over use is common. Unfortunately some historical media reports can cause alarm, and addictions often give rise to negative judgements and accusations that it is a factor of a weak will. This is profoundly unhelpful, and even destructive to finding a healthier balance in the use of games and other technologies. Simple self-assessments can be a guide, but are not diagnostic.

I hope that through the recognition of Gaming Disorder there will be more informed professionals available to formally assess that small group of often talented individuals who need help finding a better balance.


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