Medical experts are questioning the World Health Organisation’s newly defined “gaming disorder”. Many have crticised WHO’s ‘gaming disorder’ for it’s lack of depth, unsubstantiated evidence and genuine risk of misdiagnosis. The current definition for “gaming disorder” is essentially an unhealthy commitment to games above other aspects of one’s life, which is so excessive it negatively impacts on their life. With the WHO working to add “gaming disorder” to the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), experts are protesting the rudimentary definition. The crux of their criticisms is that the definition bears resemblance to substance addiction instead of excessive media consumption.

What are their concerns?

The leading voice of protest can be found in a paper published in the Journal of Behavioral Addiction. Over 36 academics, mental health specialists and social scientists have contributed numerous arguments to the paper. While they agree that a “gaming disorder” needs to be identified, these experts heavily criticise the WHO’s lack of evidence. The paper, titled “Weak Basis for Gaming Disorder” states “that the proposed new disorder lacks the necessary scientific support and sufficient clinical utility to justify making the jump from research construct to recognized diagnostic category.” It is the premature and rushed classification that these experts believe is both reckless and dangerous.

The American Psychological Association also put out a paper, titled “Video game addiction: The push to pathologize video games“. Their first concern is that the WHO has created this definition from the perspective of substance abuse, ignoring the intricate differences that have gone into understanding non-substance addictions like food, exercise or sex addiction. The APA also echo the concerns of other experts, being a lack of clinical research for the definition. Their third concern may be the most important. The WHO’s current classification of “gaming disorder” assumes that issues a patient has in life are from video games. However, the APA point out that this isn’t necessarily the case and in fact is the opposite in many instances. Issues in a patient’s life could be caused by a variety of reasons, but video games and excessive reliance on them is because of the therapeutic affects of games. They believe excessive gaming could be a patient’s way of self medicating, and a reliance on games is a reliance on the therapy itself, not video games specifically.

The problems with poor classification

As medical experts have stated, the research in this field is rudimentary. Therefore a rudimentary definition will lead to significant issues. The first issue is with how a poor classification will impact on society’s view of a “gaming disorder”. The APA believe “moral panic might be influencing formalization and might increase due to it,” meaning misleading media coverage and the resulting pressure to act has not only caused a premature and rushed definition, but will mischaracterise the issue resulting in more misleading media coverage and panicked pressure to act. They state “While such ‘solutions’ may lead parents, clinicians and society to feel that something is being done to address the perceived problem of excessive gaming, in fact, this intervention has had a negligible positive effect and even some negative outcomes.”

The Journal of Behavioral Addiction also raise concerns with diagnosing a poorly researched condition. The first problem to amount from this is that the definition assumes patients who have problems with gaming also have psychiatric issues. They argue that this is a dangerous oversimplification, drawing comparisons to those who seek marriage or family therapy not having or being treated for mental health issues. Furthermore, people who receive these forms of therapy, like for sexual assault victims or bereavement, are able to do so without diagnosis. By classifying “gaming disorder” as a physiological issue, only gamers who are formally diagnosed can receive help. Another key concern is misdiagnosis. The paper not only explains the overwhelming size of the gaming population, but that between 1.1% and 10.9% of them are “highly engaged” gamers that are able to play for excessive amounts of time without impacting on their life. The grey area created by “highly engaged” gamers questions the fundamental definition of “gaming disorder” as well as how this section of gamers would be perceived, diagnosed and treated.

The World Health Organistation’s definition of “gaming disorder” is not only rudimentary, unsubstantiated and mischaracterised, but also brings forward many derivative issues. Many professional experts have come forward in protest of this definition, voicing their concerns. While a “gaming disorder” seems real, it will require a significant amount of additional research to properly understand.