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WHO to Recognize 'Gaming Disorder' as Mental Health Condition

posted on by Jennifer Sherman

We all know someone who spends more time than seems advisable on video games. Gaming can be an innocent hobby, but when it becomes all-consuming, people's health and lives are in danger. As an extreme example, a South Korean child died of malnutrition in 2010 while her parents were raising a virtual child. Gamers, including a Taiwanese man in 2015, have also died after extended gaming sessions with insufficient breaks. However, gaming addiction is still not recognized as a medical condition in many countries.

To acknowledge the problem, the World Health Organization (WHO) will include the condition of "gaming disorder" in its 11th International Classification of Diseases (ICD) diagnostic guide. The upcoming edition of the document is currently under revision, and WHO plans to release it this year.

The document draft describes the condition as recurring gaming behavior that becomes so severe that it takes "precedence over other life interests." Some countries have already identified the condition as a health issue and offer addiction clinics to treat excessive gaming.

The new edition of the ICD will state that abnormal behavior should be witnessed over a period of at least 12 months in order to diagnose "gaming disorder." However, the period may be shortened "if symptoms are severe." Listed symptoms include impaired control over gaming, increased priority given to gaming, and persistence of gaming despite negative consequences.

Dr. Richard Graham, a technology addiction specialist at the Nightingale Hospital in London, praised the decision to recognize the condition. He said, "It is significant because it creates the opportunity for more specialised services. It puts it on the map as something to take seriously."

However, he also acknowledged that caution will be necessary so that the new recognition does not lead to improper diagnoses. He added, "It could lead to confused parents whose children are just enthusiastic gamers." Graham, who sees about 50 new cases of digital addiction annually, uses his own criteria to determine excessive gaming. For example, he asks, "Is the addiction taking up neurological real-estate, dominating thinking and preoccupation?"

Psychiatrists, researchers, and various agencies also refer to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a diagnostic tool similar to the ICD published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). The fifth edition, which the APA released in 2013, refers to internet gaming disorder as a "condition for further study."

Characters obsessed with gaming are prevalent in anime and manga. In the Recovery of an MMO Junkie anime (seen above right), which premiered in October, a 30-year-old woman quits her job to reinvent herself as an online gamer.

Sources: BBC (Jane Wakefield), The Asahi Shimbun (Hidefumi Nogami)

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