WHO: "There is increasing and well-documented evidence of gaming disorder"
Recent listing is "only a clinical description" for diagnoses, not prevention or treatment
The World Health Organisation stands by its definition of the recently-classified 'gaming disorder', describing it as "a clinically recognisable and clinically significant syndrome."
Last week it emerged both 'gaming disorder' and 'hazardous gaming' had been added to the current draft of the next revision for WHO's International Compendium of Diseases (ICD).
The listings are fairly broad in their definitions and prompted several questions from across the industry - most prominently: what separates victims of gaming disorder from passionate consumers who choose to pour a lot of their leisure time into the medium?
GamesIndustry.biz reached out to the organisation, and a spokesperson observed that gaming disorder is one of two diagnostic entries related to addictive behaviour - alongside gambling disorder, which has been included in the ICD for several years.
"There is increasing and well-documented evidence of clinical relevance of these conditions and increasing demand for treatment in different parts of the world," the spokesperson told us.
"Use of the internet, computers, smartphones and other electronic devices has dramatically increased over recent decades. While the increase is associated with clear benefit to users - for example, in real-time information exchange - health problems as a result of excessive use have also been documented. In a number of countries, the problem has become a significant public health concern."
GamesIndustry.biz requested several times for examples of this evidence, or clarification on how WHO defines 'excessive', but we have yet to receive an adequate response.
When pressed for a definition of 'excessive', the WHO spokesperson directed to the listing for hazardous gaming, which doesn't entirely satisfy the question.
The spokesperson did offer further examples of the health concerns that can result from both gaming disorder and hazardous gaming. Negative consequences on the sufferer's physical health include sedentary lifestyle, impaired vision and/or hearing, musculoskeletal problems, injuries and accidents, and infections.
They also listed some of the psychosocial problems that can arise, including cyber-bullying, hindered social development, sleep deprivation, risky sexual behaviour, aggressive behaviour, depression and suicide.
The organisation did stress that the entry on gaming disorder "includes only a clinical description and not prevention and treatment options", reiterating that the purpose of the ICD is to identify global health trends, helping medical practitioners and researchers to categorise conditions.
"Inclusion of a disorder in ICD is a consideration which countries take into account when making decisions on provision of health care and allocation of resources for prevention, treatment and rehabilitation," the spokesperson added.
It's also worth restating that the current beta of ICD-11 is a draft and can change on a daily basis. The final revision won't go live until later this year.
The WHO's decision to classify gaming disorder prompted debate across the games industry, as well as a response from the Entertainment Software Association. The ESA said the listing "recklessly trivialises real mental health issues" and urged the WHO to remove it.
However, WHO's listing is not without merit. There are numerous stories of deaths linked to extensive gaming sessions in Asian internet cafes over the past decade, which are presumably part of the "well-documented evidence" WHO has based this clinical description on.
Meanwhile the rise of free-to-play mechanics and loot boxes are reminiscent enough of gambling systems to have prompted another debate across the industry and even drawn in governments on the matter. It's not difficult to see that such mechanics could exacerbate addictive tendencies in certain individuals.