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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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