Well, it’s almost official. Computer and video game addiction is on the verge of recognition as a medical thing. A World Health Organization (WHO) draft document for tracking Mortality and Morbidity Statistics includes gaming disorder. The eleventh edition of the WHO International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) is due to be finalized in February 2018.
The draft classifies “Gaming disorder” on the same level as “Gambling disorder.” The proposed document pegs both behaviors as “Disorders due to addictive behaviors.” The disorder falls under the parent classification “Mental, behavioral or neurodevelopmental disorders.” According to the draft, for someone to be diagnosed with gaming disorder, there must be a pattern of persistent or recurrent behavior. The pattern must result in significant functional impairment in other aspects of life. The behavior must be manifested by impaired control and increased priority of gaming and continued occurrence or escalation despite negative consequences. In all but the most severe cases, the behavior must be evident for at least 12 months for a diagnosis.
On a day to day basis, a WHO classification doesn’t make much difference. We envision three possible outcomes, one of which is a certainty with draft approval. First, gaming disorder statistics will be obtained and recorded. There’s no guarantee of the stats’ validity or reliability, but there will be numbers. Second, incidence levels could lead to programs to study (most likely), diminish (maybe), or prevent gaming (which is almost certainly a non-starter, given that video game sales are greater than $30 billion a year). Finally, there’s a scrinch of a chance gaming disorder treatment would qualify for health insurance coverage by virtue of its recognition by the WHO. If there’s money in it, 28 to 90-day gaming rehab programs could also become a thing. You can expect therapeutic approaches to range from cold turkey to gradual withdrawal. Imagine a withdrawal regimen calling for initial maintenance doses of twenty minutes of PacMan or Tomb of Annihilation three times a day. To be clear, we don’t question the negative impact of any behavior that results in significant functional impairment. We will track and report back on Gaming disorder’s WHO classification status.
Note: The American Psychiatric Association requests additional research on “Internet Gaming Disorder” in the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The APA refered to Internet Gaming Disorder as a “Condition for Further Study” in the 2013 document.