Is Gaming Addiction Real? The World Health Organization Thinks So

For the first time, the World Health Organization has listed gaming addiction as a mental health disorder.

Is Gaming Addiction Real? The WHO Thinks So

Photo by Inti St Clair via Getty Images

The World Health Organization just released annual updates to their massive compendium of diseases and disorders, the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), including gaming addiction as an official mental health disorder for the first time.

It is characterized as “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.”

Already, one parent is asking the National Health Service to diagnose her 15-year-old son with the disorder who she says “hasn’t got an offline world.” Qualifying for a gaming addiction isn’t difficult—apparently, you’ve got to play 20 hours a week or more, which has plenty of avid gamers rolling their eyes.

How is gaming for 20 hours a week considered an addiction? That’s roughly 3 hours per day. People spend more hours than that on Netflix every night but no one is calling that an addiction 🤔#SMH

Plenty of research suggests gaming addiction is real. But, as Emily Reynolds’ wonderful Guardian piece on the subject points out, it’s not exactly widespread. And, there’s a real possibility it’s not real.

As biological psychology professor Pete Etchells told Reynolds, it’s also possible that gaming isn’t an addiction, but a cause of underlying issues. “There’s also the wider question of whether gaming disorder is an actual disorder in and of itself, or whether it masks other underlying disorders,” he said. “So, say you have a person with signs of clinical depression who uses gaming as a coping mechanism—it might look as though they have a gaming addiction. But actually, it’s the underlying depression that probably needs to be treated.”

Easy to see how, given the immersive nature of gaming, people could use it for the same type of depression-driven escapism that causes unhealthy drug use. Gaming is really fun, and the positive impact of games cannot be overstated. But, like any mind-altering substance, you can overuse it.

All things in moderation, including moderation, right?