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WHO Adding “Gaming Disorder” to Official List of Diseases

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The World Health Organization is preparing to add "Gaming Disorder" or "6D11" to its list of diseases which is set to be published sometime in 2018.

Here's how the current draft characterizes the disease:

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.

I'm not a doctor, nor will I pretend to diagnose, cure, or prevent any diseases, etc. What I will do is weigh in on this as someone who was, at one time, heavily addicted to games.


I think we have to be careful how we classify addictive behavior. The term "disease" can be argued semantically just like most of the arguments in the video game industry these days. Technically, most things regarded as having an adverse affect on people can be classified a disease. Is this something resources should be devoted toward in order to "prevent?" No, I don't believe so.

People often cite the studies done on gaming and dopamine levels as one reason why these games can lead to addictive behaviors. They are then compared to cocaine or heroine, and that's where the poorly-conducted studies begin to fall apart.

Many activities can be addictive and lead to the same responses: Getting good grades, eating chocolate, reading a book, or going to an amusement part. My wife, who first showed me this article, pointed out that she gets what's called a "running high" when she goes for a run. Apparently many people do -- it's like a physical response to running that makes you feel good. People actually get addicted to it.

I agree with the psychologists who point out that it's less about the "gaming" and more about the "overdoing" it. As noted above, there are many things one can overdo -- even wonderful, good things -- that can lead to negative outcomes. In many cases, the overdoing it part is indicative of another underlying issue such as depressions, anxiety, or attention deficit disorder.

Looking back at my own addiction to gaming (lasted about 3 years from 2004-2007) I can say that it was mostly from being lazy and wanting an escape. It was easier than going to school or working. The anxieties of life were forgettable, and games offered an escape. I eventually came out of that coma-like state when I realized I had real life goals I wanted to accomplish, and that if I wanted to ever do something more or achieve success I needed to get a degree, get a job, have a family, etc.

I was able to come out of that on my own, but I completely believe many people aren't able to do that and should seek professional help. There are many professionals who can help with the underlying issues behind why an addiction to games might exist.

What I hope we avoid is a misdiagnosis for both the healthy gamers and those struggling with their habits.

There's already a bad enough stigma surrounding games. I regularly hear (from family and friends and even strangers I overhear) how it's a destructive activity, addictive, waste of time, etc., etc. What everyone seems to forget is that it's a hobby and a pass-time leisure activity -- in some cases a full-time job or supplemental income -- that when enjoyed responsibly is no worse than running or reading a book.

For myself, I prioritize things that must be done over gaming. I now work from home, which has introduced a myriad of trials on my will. Yet I still manage to work for 6-8 hours a day before gaming. Work must be done. Chores? I do them first. Errands? I do them first. Family time? Always first. Games are what I do when I'm free. That's not to say gaming comes last -- I put it before many things, but I do so responsibly.

Moderation in all things, including moderation.

  • For me it always comes down to whether someone did something to ‘earn’ the disease, or was it fully random. Getting lung cancer because you smoked isn’t a ‘tragedy’, its you losing the dice roll you decided to make when you started smoking. Getting brain cancer for no known reason is a tragedy, and should be reacted to accordingly. I have zero pity for the smoker with lung cancer, I do have pity for someone with brain cancer.

    Video games don’t randomly strike at people and force them to be addicted. It’s always the person who makes the decision to play, and then play too much. It’s not ‘tragic’ to be addicted to games, its just that individual being lazy, and somehow today many want to explain someone being lazy as anything but that.

    • People should be responsible for their actions, but I think you can only take that so far. Do you take perfect care of your health? Eat right? How often do you work out? Do you spend hours a day sitting? Strength training?

      Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US – if you developed heart problems perhaps we should just call you lazy for not jogging enough.

      There are also a lot of gene-environment interactions. Some people are truly predisposed to certain behaviours either through genetics, environment, or a mix of both. Take an alcoholic, for example. Lazy, right? What if they were born into poverty, raised by abusive, alcoholic parents and knew no other life? Were never given the skills to cope? That’s not a hypothetical – it happens all the time.

      • Something being harder (the poverty person in your example) isn’t nearly the same as someone getting a terrible roll of the dice (brain cancer). I take “you are responsible for your actions” to its conclusion; if you can do something about it, the consequences are on you, good or bad. I keep in good shape, but perfect? Nope. And I know I’m responsible for that, so if I should have some health issues down the road that could have been prevented, I’m not going to blame bad luck or anything else.

        Some actions are far more difficult than others, but that is true for basically all people throughout life. Is a person working minimum wage in a ‘ 9-5, show up, get paid, leave’ job having a harder time of things than someone in a job that pays much better, but is basically a 24/7 job with incredible pressure (say a small business owner)? The small business owner can take an ‘easier’ job, just like the minimum wage worker can take steps (often difficult ones) to move up in their situation.

        You can’t do anything about a genetic disease, or about getting permanently injured by a drunk driver. Those are tragedies, and that word, tragedy, shouldn’t be extended to things people do have control over. I view disease in a similar light as it relates to here; playing video games too much isn’t like catching a flu.

    • I think ‘opting into’ the “disease” is the key for me. Someone who plays video games chose to play video games. As you said, they don’t randomly strike at people and force them to be addicted.

      There are personality traits inherent in some individuals which may trigger upon the stimuli of the game — but that’s not the game’s fault, nor is it fair to classify the gaming behavior as a “disease.” The traits, chemical imbalances, or other issues at work which are using gaming as the scapegoat are the disease.

  • Looking at their diagnostic criteria, I’m wondering why we need a separate “gaming disorder” diagnosis at all. The criteria are essentially identical to diagnosing any addiction (impaired control, increased frequency/duration, significant negative impact). These are the same criteria you’d use to identify addictions to alcohol, gambling, cocaine, whatever.

    People so often misunderstand what addiction really means in a true clinical sense. For example, I really like coffee. I drink several cups a day, do a lot to seek it out, and get headaches/grumpy when I don’t have coffee. Lots of people would call that an addiction – but it isn’t. I can function more or less normally without coffee, and most importantly a coffee habit isn’t negatively affecting my life.

    I think true addiction to gaming is real in some cases, but that there’s also a lot of people out there looking down their noses at an “addicted” gamer who wouldn’t get any attention if they were knitting or painting model sets, or whatever.

    I also think when it comes to controlling addiction people need to be honest with themselves about what they can handle. I know some people who can’t have even a single drink without going into a downward spiral. Likewise someone who is prone to gaming addiction probably shouldn’t pick up WoW, or League, etc etc

    • Looking at their diagnostic criteria, I’m wondering why we need a separate “gaming disorder” diagnosis at all.

      That’s my thought as well. The underlying causes of being addicted to video games are already on the list and have their own set of diagnosis — that is, the ones that are actually medical conditions and not one simply being lazy or choosing the habit.

      there’s also a lot of people out there looking down their noses at an “addicted” gamer who wouldn’t get any attention if they were knitting or painting model sets, or whatever.

      This is a pet peeve of mine. I know people who have all sorts of terrible habits, but speak poorly about people who play video games — even playing them in a non-addicted healthy way. Simply playing games at all — spending any time on them — is viewed as an “addiction” and an unhealthy habit.

      “Video games are bad” has become a real thing over the year, and it’s not helped any when someone can official diagnose it now.

  • Those criteria are pretty much the same as alcoholism. I agree with it, in that continuing something despite negative impacts to your life is a sign of mental illness (just like alcoholism). Where you draw that line is highly subjective though.

    Skimming the other comments, I think some people fail to appreciate that there is a genetic basis for predisposition to these types of addiction.

    • Thanks for pointing that out, but realizing that while the WHO classification is not currently a thing, the condition arguably is real regardless of an official label.