You may have joked that you or someone you know is "addicted" to video games, but video game addiction might officially be a thing. On Monday, the World Health Organization released the 11th edition of its International Classification of Diseases (ICD), the first edition to recognise gaming disorder as a mental health condition.
Whether or not video game addiction is a mental health disorder has been a point of debate for some time. And gaming addiction isn't currently classified as a disorder in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which mental health professionals use to diagnose disorders. However, it is identified in the DSM as a condition that's been recommended for further study.
That's why gaming disorder's inclusion in the ICD is significant. The ICD, which identifies health trends and statistics around the world, is the standard by which a lot of researchers and doctors diagnose illnesses, so including gaming disorder in it is a big step towards more research into people whose lives are affected by too much investment in video games. While not all psychologists agree that gaming addiction should be classified as a disorder, Vladimir Poznyak, a member of WHO's Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, told CNN that this will help people to be "alerted to the existence of this condition" and make it more likely that "people who suffer from these conditions can get appropriate help."
Because gaming disorder hasn't been classified as a diagnosable disorder until now, it's hard to tell how many people actually suffer from it. One study from Oxford University in 2016 that looked at 19,000 people did find that out of those who did play video games on a regular basis (about half the sample size), between 2% and 3% reported symptoms of addiction. But again, the lack on consensus over how gaming disorder should be classified makes it more difficult to track down who really has it. In that sense, though, the WHO's official recognition might shine more light into what it could really mean to be addicted to video games.
The WHO describes gaming disorder as "a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior" that takes over a person's life.
To begin with, the ICD outlines three points of criteria that might indicate that someone is suffering from gaming disorder: 1) impaired control over gaming, 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.
For someone to be diagnosed with gaming disorder, the WHO recommends, they should have had these symptoms for a period of 12 months or longer, though the ICD states that "the required duration may be shortened if all diagnostic requirements are met and symptoms are severe."
The ICD also says that gaming disorder occurs when those patterns of behaviour are severe enough to significantly impair a person's functioning, whether that's in personal relationships or at work or in school. While the symptoms can be consistent over a period of time, they can also be episodic, and occur at certain intervals in a person's life.
If you think that you might be suffering from gaming disorder, it's best to talk to a mental health professional — even if they're not comfortable with diagnosing you with gaming disorder off the bat (given that it's not yet in the DSM, which most psychologists use), they should be able to figure out a way to help.