Fearing another wave of demonization coming upon video games, the games industry is currently worried about what the gaming disorder classification by the World Health Organisation would mean for the future of gaming. The definition of gaming disorder came out as a draft published on June 18, 2018, by the WHO on the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). By 2022, it should be officially implemented by healthcare providers as the ICD is a common reference for diagnosing, researching, and treating illnesses worldwide.
Representatives of the games industry around the world published a statement expressing their concerns, which is also backed by many researchers who see WHO's announcement as a response to moral panic disguised in a scientific construct. This criticism can be seen in a statement published by a Division in the American Psychological Association.
In short, according to the gaming disorder classification, healthcare providers will be able to identify the condition if the following can be observed in a patient:
- Impaired control over gaming;
- A priority of gaming over other life's interests and activities;
- Persisting gaming activity even in the face of negative consequences.
In the wake of the increasing growth of the online casino industry, another manual widely used by mental health professionals, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) - published by the American Psychiatric Association - is still careful at providing instructions for diagnosing gambling disorders. In the DSM-5, there's a definition for "Internet gaming disorder", which is set apart from the main definitions and can only be found in an appendix, as its upgrade into a full practical definition is still pending due to lack of clinical research.
Why are mental health experts and social scientists opposing the gaming disorder classification?
No one is denying that players can engage into dysfunctional video game playing and lose control of their own lives in the process, however, one could be missing the bigger picture for a constellation of game genres, and play styles by framing it within the simplistic framework proposed by the WHO. As this controversy unfolds, we have the World Health Organization on one side and the games industry on the other, backed by members of two strong allies: the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association claiming that there's not enough research supporting gaming disorder as a mental condition. Here are a few problems:
- Research into game addiction has been around for more than 30 years and nobody can still establish a consistent formulation of how it can be pinpointed and diagnosed.
- The language used for defining and identifying game addiction is practically the same language used for substance addiction, which is qualitatively different from gaming.
- What is known as gaming disorder could simply consist of the symptoms of other mental conditions and not a cause of mental illnesses per se. If healthcare providers are not able to draw a line between symptom and cause, people struggling with anxiety, for instance, could be misdiagnosed and treated for gaming disorder instead.
- Games are also used in the treatment of certain mental illnesses. If they become a villain, how are their good effects going to be set apart from their supposed bad ones as far as mental health is concerned?
- There are many genres and mechanics for games out there. If public policies should promote prevention and identification of gaming disorder in healthcare, what kind of present and future games are more likely to cause it? And we can't even predict the kind of game mechanics and genre that the future holds.
Since countries still have up until 2022 to adapt to the new classification, I believe there's a lot to develop in this story. In the meantime, let's keep an eye for the new updates.