Gaming addiction recognised by World Health Organisation

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recognised gaming disorders as an official illness, despite opposition from an industry group with a New Zealand representative.

Last week, WHO adopted the latest revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-11), which includes a section on gaming disorders.

"Gaming disorder is characterised by a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour," the ICD-11 document says.

The disorder can be manifested by "impaired control over gaming", "increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities" and continuing to game despite "negative consequences".

This would result in significant impairment to personal, family, social, educational or occupation experiences.

WHO said the disorder only impacts a small proportion of gamers, and to avoid it, people playing games should be alert to how much it consumes their lives.

The ICD is used as the basis for some healthcare providers to inform policy and how they diagnose patients. It is also used by some health insurers and can also inform research areas.

The decision to recognise the disorder was based on "reviews of available evidence and reflects a consensus of experts from different disciplines and geographical regions," according to the WHO.

The decision to include the classification, which was made last year, was met with backlash from the global video game industry.

The Interactive Games and Entertainment Association (IGEA) said a gaming disorder was not "based on sufficiently robust evidence to justify inclusion in one of the WHO's most important norm-setting tools".

In a statement from the group, which includes representatives from New Zealand, Australia, Brazil, and the United States, it said the decision's consequences could be "far-reaching, unintended and to the detriment of those in need of genuine help".

"We encourage and support healthy game play by providing information and tools, such as parental controls, that empower billions of people around the world to manage their play to ensure it remains enjoyable and enriching."

One main argument against the classification is that prolonged gaming comes from underlying issues of depression and social anxiety, which may be obfuscated by the new disorder.

Other academics have suggested that political influence from Asian countries concerned about addictions by their populations may have impacted the WHO. But the WHO has denied that.

The new classification will come into effect from January 1, 2022.