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The WHO’s Gaming Disorder Proposal is a Danger to IGDA Members

Posted By Jen MacLean, Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The IGDA wholeheartedly supports responsible game play, but the World Health Organization’s recent proposal of a “gaming disorder” is so broad as to cover almost every person who’s ever played “just one more turn” of an amazing game, or who prioritizes games as their first choice of hobby or entertainment.  Gamers, and game developers, are directly harmed by this dangerous proposal.

First and foremost, the current definition of the disorder is clearly prejudicial against gaming as a hobby and interest.  According to the WHO, gaming disorder is “a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”

If a person prioritizes playing games over interests or activities like watching television, no reasonable person would suggest they have a mental disorder.  And the inclusion of “negative consequences” is also vague and prejudicial; is a “negative consequence” spending over $50 annually on gaming?  $100?   Gaming as a hobby of choice has frequently been subject to scrutiny not given to other forms of entertainment or leisure activities, and the recent action by the WHO continues this trend.

Even worse, creating a “gaming disorder” encourages repressive governments to unfairly attempt to control gaming behaviors.  Allegations have been made that the WHO created this diagnosis in part because of political pressure, and a number of scientists have highlighted the risk that “a diagnosis may be used to control and restrict children, which has already happened in parts of the world where children are forced into “gaming-addiction camps” with military regimens designed to “treat” them for their gaming problems, without any evidence of the efficacy of such treatment and followed by reports of physical and psychological abuse.”  WHO staff have acknowledged “increasing demand for treatment in different parts of the world” for excessive use of electronic devices, which leads to serious questions about whether the diagnosis is driven by science and research or by financial and government interests.

Also troubling are the potential consequences of creating such a broad diagnosis.  Because of a lack of good research on, and consensus about, problematic gaming, scientists worry that “it has not been convincingly demonstrated that problematic gaming is not better viewed as a coping mechanism associated with underlying problems of a different nature (Kardefelt-Winther, 2014). Misclassifying such problems as Gaming Disorder could lead to worse treatment outcomes for patients.”

Interestingly, a study highlighted in the American Journal of Psychiatryfound no significant differences in overall mental health, physical health or social activity between those who met the criteria for Internet gaming disorder and those who did not.”  The American Psychiatric Association identifies “Internet Gaming Disorder” as an area for further study in its DSM-5, not as an official disorder, even with a much more detailed diagnostic criteria.  

Given the conflicting research on, and belief about, the positive and negative mental health impacts of game play, the best way to protect the interests of gamers and game developers, as well as support better awareness of and treatment for mental health issues, is to encourage further study into responsible gaming, not rush to create a disorder that is clearly prejudicial against games as a form of entertainment and art.

Tags:  2018  american journal of psychiatry  american psychiatric association  gaming disorder  igda  kardefelt-winther  who 

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Comments on this post...

Leah Fredman says...
Posted Monday, January 22, 2018
I had a lot of similar feelings when I came across the WHO's decision, prompting me to pen a blog post on the topic as well, as many people I know do not appreciate why the potential diagnosis is so problematic . Furthermore, this lovely article was published today, further questioning why we do not see more positive press for gaming, when the benefits are clearly there
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Gage H. Kilmer says...
Posted Thursday, February 8, 2018
While I had heard of the proposal, I hadn't taken the time to think of the implications for the industry. Thank you for this well written post, very informative.
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Michael S. Shaffer USMC - RET says...
Posted Wednesday, March 21, 2018
The difference between a hobby and a disorder, is whether it causes a distinguishable negative effect on one's life... a dis-order. The wording might sound frightening, but it is objectively comparable to a gambling addict. I know I could possibly have beenb considered to have a disorder when I was spending hundred of dollars a month on my gaming habit, however, at the same time, that gaming habit was the only real social activity I was capable of due to my other disabilities at the time. All in all, as long as no one is bothered by your activities, and your basic needs are met, there would be no qualification for the disorder. If it causes problems in ones life that are attributable solely to inability to personally control one's self, it is a disorder. Again, no matter the amount spent, or the time invested, if it does not interfere with one's ability to live their life accordingly, it is not classified as a disorder. Many of the other disorders are also drawn up this way, in order to give the doctor or evaluation consultant a guideline to go by. In the end, if it bothers you, or those you love, it can be classified. If it does not, it can not. I have personally had to restrict my daughter's gaming on her Ipad, simply because she becomes so focused on it, that she neglects her personal needs, her obligations as a student, and her connections with friends and family. In her case, it is a disorder. For me, I own several gaming systems, dozens of games and peripherals, and have invested several thousand dollars over the years into my gaming habits, and it is not a disorder, as my responsibilities always come first. This is not to say that people will not jump the gun and create a monster in the closet out of this, but, the doctors themselves should at least be able to tell the difference between someone obsessed beyond reason at risk of causing detriment to their own health or the health of others, and an avid gamer. At least... I hope so.
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Bryan Wagstaff says...
Posted Monday, August 20, 2018
In an ideal world there would be no need for it at all. Clinicians understand when a person is obsessing over an activity or compulsively engaging in a behavior, and a single diagnostic code would be sufficient.
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Bryan Wagstaff says...
Posted Monday, August 20, 2018
Unfortunately we live in a world where every variation needs to be specified. Some of it for insurance and billing purposes, some of it for governmental reporting reasons, some for other reasons. Ultimately we end up with a large number of specific obsessions and specific compulsions. Without the specific code many organizations and individuals refuse to acknowledge that a video games could be the object of obsession. As a result of real-world constraints, we need this (and many other) diagnostic codes for obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors, we cannot use the generic OCD label.
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