In what initially feels like a major blow to what we do here at Pixelkin, the World Health Organization is adding “Gaming Disorder” as an official mental health condition. However, in many ways it’s an important and useful classification, though not without its flaws. As always, it’s important to go beyond the headline and learn what it all means.
The proposed gaming disorder is still in the beta draft phase, and defined as follows:
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;
3) continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.
The behavior 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 behavior may be continuous or episodic and recurrent. The gaming behavior 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.
Recognizing gaming disorder as an official mental health condition comes with some important distinctions. It essentially becomes like any other disease or condition which can be used by doctors and health insurance. Treatment centers that specialize in gaming addiction could seek grant money and funding. At the very least it will generate more discussion and research into healthy and unhealthy video game habits.
The immediate flaw is that Gaming Disorder will be over-diagnosed, particularly in young people who have less responsibilities and more time to play games. CNN spoke to Chris Ferguson, a psychology professor at Stetson University in Florida, who added that at best 1% of individuals in the cited studies could be classified with the disorder.
The other problem is that gaming addiction could simply be a symptom of a larger mental health problem, or individual situation. “After 20 or 30 years of this, the evidence base is not really good to suggest that this is a unique disorder,” said Ferguson. “The evidence base really to my mind suggests that this is, if anything, symptomatic of an underlying problem that people might be having.”