Gaming Disorder- A Mental Health Condition According to the WHO

Gaming Disorder? The WHO thinks
it is a relevant mental health condition.
Image credit: Pixabay

This post is related to one of my older posts about tech devices and whether it is good or bad for our kids (Tech for Kids: The Good, The Bad and Tips for Parents for a Child's Safety). I am posting this for awareness.

Our children love to play video games during their spare time. Let's face it, we parents/ adults, too. The proof lies in the various gaming consoles throughout the years, from Atari, Nintendo, the PlayStation to the Xbox. When the PlayStation came out with its portable version, the PSP, everyone wanted to have one. Currently, we access games on our smartphones and tablets. Video games are great sources of entertainment, keep us occupied when we are bored, and in a way, help develop abstract thinking and better eye-hand coordination. But, when does a hobby or a past-time activity become too much?

The World Health Organization recently announced that it is considering adding "gaming disorder" to the list of mental health conditions in its next update of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). A beta draft of the document specifically describes "gaming disorder"  as being characterized by a "pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior" online or offline. Although the 11th version of the ICD will be released in mid-2018, the addition of "gaming disorder" would symbolize the recognition that a "past-time" activity can become a severe problem if it leads to addictive behavior.

The draft's description further stipulates that gaming behavior could be characterized as a disorder if it meets three criteria:
1. Impaired control of gaming habits
2. Increased priority is given to gaming over other life interests and daily activities
3. Continued escalation of gaming despite clear negative consequences.
In addition, the draft states that the disorder can be continuous, episodic or recurrent in nature and for the behavior to be considered as a disorder, behavior patterns should have lasted for 12 months or longer although this may be shortened if criteria are met and symptoms are severe. The behavior has to cause "significant impairment" in personal, family, social, education and occupational lives to be considered as a disorder.

If "gaming disorder" does become included in the final revision of the ICD, this would add gaming to a list of other behaviors that can become problematic if uncontrolled such as gambling and substance (alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and marijuana) use disorders.

While some welcome the addition of gaming disorder by the World Health Organization, some have their doubts.

The Psychology Of Gaming

There has been a long-standing debate among experts in the psychological community whether gaming is addictive enough to be considered as a disorder. Gaming has been present in our society for four decades. So far, psychologists and psychiatrists say that this merits more research. There is a problem apparently in distinguishing the fine line between spending a lot of time playing video games and actual addictive behavior.

Published in the Journal of Addictive Behavior, "Scientists need to establish a clear-cut distinction between someone who may use games excessively but, not problematically and someone who is experiencing significant impairment in their daily lives as a consequence of their excessive gaming."

Yes, we have heard or read of the horror stories of people whose gaming behavior have become problematic. Some children have stopped eating, schooling, and socializing due to excessive gaming. Adults, on the other hand, ruined relationships and lost their jobs. Aside from the issue of compulsive gaming, issues of problematic substance use were also reported.

Virtual gaming as therapy.
Image credit: Pixabay
According to researchers, gaming may serve as a dysfunctional coping mechanism for some. People suffering with issues of depression and anxiety may turn to video-gaming or substances like alcohol to cope with their symptoms.

Benefits and Harms of Gaming

An associate professor of International Health at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health wrote about gaming being psychologically beneficial. According to him, research has shown that gaming can relieve stress, enhance certain traits such as eye-hand coordination, and improve problem-solving and abstract thinking skills. Virtual reality gaming can also be used in psychological therapy.

Unfortunately, finding a healthy balance seems to be a problem. If uncontrolled, does more harm than good.

The Gaming Industry- What it has to say

Of course, the gaming industry is not happy about the WHO's decision (if included in the final revision) to recognize gaming disorder as a mental health condition. The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) which represents the video game industry's interests in Washington D.C., said, " The World Health Organization knows that common sense and objective research prove video games are not addictive. And, putting that official label on them recklessly trivializes real mental issues such as depression and social anxiety disorder which deserves treatment and full attention of the medical community. We strongly encourage the World Health Organization to reverse direction on its proposed action."

I understand the ESA; with 2 billion people who enjoy video games worldwide, this new development might hurt overall sales.

The Draft of the 11th ICD

The recently revealed beta draft of the World Health Organization of the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases named 2 game-related disorders making this the first time such issues have graced the pages of the diagnostic manual. These 2 game-related disorders are:

1. Gaming Disorder
  • categorized under "disorders due to addictive behaviors or substance use".
  • placed alongside gambling disorder and varying degrees of alcohol and drug addiction
  • defined as a pattern of persistent or recurrent digital game playing that is over a prioritized and escalated despite negative consequences in the player's personal, family, social, educational or occupational life.
2. Hazardous gaming
  • gaming activities that increase the risk of harmful physical or mental health consequences to the player or those around them.
My Final Thoughts

With these in light, recognition of gaming disorder now puts a whole new perspective on video gaming and the seriousness of the situation. While recognition will open the opportunity for more specialized services that can be provided by health practitioners and its relevant prevention, it also causes many parents to worry about their children being enthusiastic gamers. 

Of course, parents say it's up to the parents to allow their children access to tech and video games. This is true. You know what's right for your children. However, parents say, that is, when they neglect to monitor their children, it's the video-gaming industry's fault. 

As parents, I would like to stress the issue of monitoring, of limiting the time of playing games (you can make it as a reward after finishing their homework) and having them participate in sports or other activities. Find a healthy balance. It's all about balance.

Sources and Related Links:
Makuch, Eddie "Gaming Disorder Is An Actual Disease, World Health Organization Says",
McAloon, Alissa "ESA Rebukes World Health Organization 'Gaming Disorder' Classification",
Loria, Kevin "Gaming Disorder May Get Classified as a Mental Health Condition-Here's What It Means",
World Health Organization "Gaming Disorder"


  1. I am so thankful to have girls, that aren't into gaming. My husband has a slight addiction to a game on his phone, but I'll be honest, I'd rather him be addicted to that as opposed to porn. I believe that anything can become an unhealthy addiction. It really just depends on the personality of the person.

  2. This is really interesting though not surprising, it can be so easy to get addicted to video games, much like gambling I guess in some ways.

  3. Such an important post, when I was younger, we did not play video games. We played outside or read books, or used our imaginations. However the people who were a couple of years younger than us were totally the opposite. Everything became about gaming. I have never been into gaming and I hope that my kids will be that way but you make such an important point. Monitoring what the do regardless of what it is can't be a bad thing!

  4. Gaming is like any other activity that makes our brains feel good . . . you can get addicted! I think it's important to put limits on our kids and ourselves to avoid this disorder.

  5. This is really interesting. My husband and I both play video games once in a while, but not often or for long periods of time. I think with all things, in moderation it is fine, but I know a lot of kids especially take it too far these days! I actually used to game a lot online and just kind of got out of it, but it never took precedence over real life interactions.

  6. Back when Super Mario is on trend, I tried playing it for more than 10hours. And when I stopped i was on high fever for 5-days!
    I do regret playing that long but I enjoyed the game (turns out it seems there is no ending??). So I realized gaming is bad when did too much.

  7. As you said balance is the key to everything. If we do anything in moderation is fine but that's the problem. It's difficult to make children understand this fact. But yes, as parents it's our responsibility to show them the right direction. Thank you for bringing up such an important topic!

  8. One of my girls loves games, like Minecraft. She can only play during the weekend. In between or after shores. Always monitored.

  9. Gaming can become an addiction. I have to set limits for my son or he would play non-stop.

  10. It is crazy how many kids aren't outside anymore. Gaming is fun and all, but some people need help controlling it.

  11. This was definitely a very interesting read. If gaming begins to take precedence over work or school then it definitely is an issue.

  12. I have to say I worry about how much my son plays video games sometimes. He has a fear of the outdoors, so it is hard to get him outside to enjoy the pretty weather.

  13. I have a son that will probably be into gaming, probably not for quite some more years. However, I do plan on keeping it supervised and once all work is completed. Hopefully people can get a handle on this sometime soon. Thanks for sharing!

  14. I have had conversations like with alot recently. For some gaming is just a thing to pass time and can be done at someones leisure but for others it can take over their entire day and can definitely become an addiction. This can be a scary thing.


  15. Wow this is really scary. I don't let mine play as much as most because I have noticed certain aggressive or obsessive tendencies that come with playing. This was great information.

  16. This post is super useful! I think dealing with children and screens is one the most challenging these about parenting these days.

  17. Both kids and adults can get addicted to gaming, I can see it can be their outlet. But just like anything else, it should be used in moderation.

  18. OMGosh, I can't believe that ICD-11 will list a coding for gaming disorder. I'm a gamer and love playing to disconnect from my routine. No wonder Healthcare workers hate ICD-10.

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