For the first time, the World Health Organisation (WHO) will list gaming disorder in its International Statistical Classification of Diseases (ICD).

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on June 18, 2018

Released on 18 June 2018, the 11th revision of the ICD defines gaming disorder as occurring “when the pattern of gaming behaviour is of such a nature and intensity that it results in marked distress or significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational or occupational functioning”.

The entry links gaming disorder to insufficient physical activity, unhealthy diet, lack of sleep, aggressive behaviour, depression and poor psychosocial functioning.

Symptoms of gaming disorder include impaired control over the frequency and duration of gaming, increased priority given to gaming over other areas of life and the escalation of gaming despite negative consequences.

The ICD states that only a small percentage of gamers will be affected by gaming disorder.

The listing comes after a recent study from California State University which suggested the reward system in the brains of young heavy users of video games and social media changes in much the same way as those of alcoholics and drug addicts.

Why is listing in the ICD important?

The ICD is a widely used resource which medical practitioners and researchers use to diagnose conditions. Its classification system facilitates data-sharing between health institutions in different regions and countries.

Another important use of the ICD is for insurance claims. Generally, a condition needs to be recognised in the ICD before it can be the subject of an insurance claim.

Chris Ferguson, a Professor of Psychology at Stetson University in Florida said, “People who have treatment centres for video game addiction or a gaming disorder will now be able to get reimbursed. In the past, they have not. It will be a financial boon for those centres.”

Dr Petros Levounis, the Chairman of the psychiatry department at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, told The New York Times the new listing will facilitate better treatment.

“We won’t have to go dancing around the issue, calling it depression or anxiety or some other consequence of the issue but not the issue itself.”

2.6 billion gamers worldwide

Whether it is legitimate to classify the excessive playing of video games as a disorder or not, it is difficult to underestimate the ubiquity of games. An estimated 2.6 billion people in the world are gamers.

2017 data from the Entertainment Retailers Association suggested that the UK video games market was almost as large as the music and video markets combined.

Survival game Fortnite has been at the centre of the debate over gaming addiction. There were recent news reports of a 9-year-old girl who was so addicted to the game she wet herself instead of taking a break from it. She also hit her father in the head when he tried to confiscate the game.

Fortnite recently amassed a staggering US$300 million of revenue, believed to be mostly through in-app purchases, in a single month.