According to the ICD-11, people with gaming disorder have trouble controlling the amount of time that they spend playing digital or video games. They also prioritize gaming over other activities and experience negative effects from their gaming behaviors.
The WHO decided to classify the condition after reviewing the research and consulting with experts. The WHO claim that this classification will result in an increased focus on gaming disorder and its prevention and treatment.
Gaming disorder shares similarities with internet gaming disorder (IGD), which is a condition that the American Psychiatric Association (APA) have labeled in their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as requiring further study. The APA does not currently recognize IGD as an official condition.
In this article, we discuss the signs and symptoms of gaming disorder and explore what its classification may mean for gamers.
Signs and symptoms
According to the WHO’s definition, a person who has gaming disorder will show the following characteristics for at least 12 months:
- lacking control over their gaming habits
- prioritizing gaming over other interests and activities
- continuing gaming despite its negative consequences
For a diagnosis, these behaviors must be so severe that they affect a person’s:
- family life
- social life
- personal life
People who remain physically inactive for extended periods due to gaming may also have a higher risk of obesity, sleep problems, and other health issues.
Gaming disorder and addiction
The WHO have listed gaming disorder as a disorder due to addictive behavior in the ICD-11.
Addiction to gaming is similar in many ways to other types of addiction. People with the disorder often spend many hours playing games, have a strong emotional attachment to this behavior, and may experience fewer social connections as a result.
As with other addictions, gaming disorder can have a negative impact on family life, relationships, and work or education. This may lead to irritation with those who criticize gaming, or it may cause feelings of guilt.
Although the WHO classification defines the behaviors that may lead to a diagnosis of gaming disorder, it is not yet clear how medical professionals will assess these behaviors.
Experts will probably need to devise diagnostic tests, such as questionnaires and structured interviews, to help determine whether or not someone has gaming disorder. They may use something similar to the Internet Gaming Disorder Scale (IGDS), a standard measure of computer and video game addiction.
Gaming disorder is a new classification, so there is no clear treatment plan in place yet. However, it is likely that treatments for other addictive behaviors, such as gambling addiction, will also be relevant for gaming disorder.
Treatment for compulsive gambling may include therapy, medication, and self-help groups.
According to a 2017 study on the treatment of IGD, it may be beneficial to combine several types of treatment. In the study, researchers used the following treatments:
- Psychoeducation. This involves educating the person about gaming behaviors and their effects on mental health.
- Treatment as usual. It is possible to adapt addiction treatment to fit gaming disorder. The treatment focuses on helping the person to control cravings, deal with irrational thoughts, and learn coping skills and problem-solving techniques.
- Intrapersonal. This treatment helps people to explore their identity, build self-esteem, and enhance their emotional intelligence.
- Interpersonal. During this treatment, the individual will learn how to interact with others by working on their communication skills and assertiveness.
- Family intervention. If gaming disorder is negatively affecting relationships with others, family members may need to take part in some aspects of therapy.
- Development of a new lifestyle. To prevent excessive gaming, people should explore their skills and abilities, set goals for themselves, and find activities other than gaming that they enjoy.
This is just one proposed treatment model. It is likely that other researchers will suggest alternative treatments for gaming disorder.
Any co-occurring conditions, such as anxiety and depression, may also require treatment.
What does it mean for gamers?
There is no doubt that some gaming behaviors are problematic. Excessive gaming has even resulted in death in some cases. But the majority of people who play computer and video games do not need to worry.
According to research on IGD, most people who play online games do not report negative symptoms and do not meet the criteria for IGD. Researchers report that only 0.3–1.0 percent of people are likely to qualify for an IGD diagnosis.
Those who do meet the criteria for video game addiction tend to have poorer emotional, physical, mental, and social health, according to another study.
It is important to note that both of these studies used the APA’s criteria for IGD rather than the WHO’s criteria for gaming disorder, but there is some overlap between the symptoms of the two disorders.
Some experts believe that playing video games can offer some benefits, especially for children. Research suggests that gaming may have positive effects on children’s cognitive and social skills.
Even though gaming disorder is not widespread, people should be aware of the amount of time that they spend playing games. They should also monitor the effect that gaming has on their other activities, their physical and mental health, and their relationships with others.
Sometimes, excessive gaming can mask another issue, such as depression or anxiety. Seeking help for the underlying issue may put a stop to the over-reliance on video games.
Support and criticism
The classification of gaming disorder in the ICD-11 has generated both support and criticism.
Dr. Richard Graham, an expert in technology addiction, has supported the WHO’s validation of gaming disorder, but he has also expressed some concern that worried parents may mistake enthusiastic gaming for gaming disorder.
Some scholars contributed a paper to the Journal of Behavioral Addictions outlining their concerns about the classification of gaming disorder. They echo Dr. Graham’s worries regarding moral panic around gaming habits and people getting an inaccurate diagnosis, especially children and young people.
The authors question the quality of the research base for gaming disorder and stress the difficulties of making a diagnosis. They also take issue with using substance abuse and gambling disorders to formulate the criteria for gaming disorder.
Gaming disorder is a newly classified condition in the WHO’s ICD-11. However, it is likely that only a small percentage of people who play online and video games will meet the criteria for gaming disorder. Controversy surrounds the diagnosis, and it is clear that further research is necessary.
Those who are worried that gaming may be negatively impacting their health or relationships should speak with a doctor or a mental health professional.