Gaming Disorder: A World Health Organization Swing and a Miss

Updated: Jun 20, 2019

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently announced the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) will have a new diagnosis: Gaming Disorder.

Thanks to almost every other news publication trying their very best to be relevant, this should be old information.

Let’s go a few steps further than simple regurgitation of the WHO’s press release, and talk about what it actually means.

Despite having been announced in late 2018, this new diagnosis has only recently caught the public's attention.

First of all, what in the world is the ICD-11?

Essentially, it is a code physicians use to bill insurance companies for patient care.

At the end of an office visit, healthcare providers must charge for the services they provided in order to receive payment, and every charge must have a diagnosis. That diagnosis has an alphanumeric designation, the ICD code. Right now we are on the 10th revision, the ICD-10. The next set of codes, chock full of new disorders, will be the ICD-11.

Confused? Let’s do an example.

Your dad goes to his primary care doctor for a blood pressure medication refill, and gets berated for not exercising and adding salt to every meal.

Under ICD code I10, the physician charges for their time spent with your dad, their physical exam, counseling, and refilling the medication.

What is listed under that ICD code?

Essential hypertension.

Simple enough.

So what is actually listed under gaming disorder?

“A pattern of gaming behavior characterized by impaired control over gaming”

If that sounds subjective to you, you are not alone.

Anyone who has ever had a group of online friends that they game with knows that one dude. Let's call him Larry.

It is 11PM and you have to be up in seven hours for your early class, so you announce you're logging off.

What does Larry say?

"One more game!"

Except you know Larry does not mean one more game. In reality, Larry means seven more games, and suddenly it is 3AM.

Does Larry have gaming disorder?

Despite over 166 million Americans reportedly playing video games in 2018, there is still a long journey to destigmatize the gaming lifestyle.

“Increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities”

Um, what?

OF COURSE gaming takes precedence over other interests.

If you are reading this post, gaming is either your number one hobby, or your career.

So, are we to believe that because we choose to log into Fortnite and collaboratively game with friends, working on mental processing speed, teamwork, and hand eye coordination rather than popping open a trashy fiction novel we now have a DISORDER?

Why are we insisting upon further stigmatization of gamers?

Why should esports not take priority over other interests if it truly brings us joy?

In the unspoken hierarchy amongst hobbies, video games are still seen as violence-inducing and mindless.

“Continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”

Once again, the subjective nature of this sentence is confounding.

For those naive to the esports world, negative consequences could mean something very different.

Would the WHO consider dropping out of community college to play video games a negative consequence?

Most certainly.

However, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins and his 22 million YouTube subscribers would vehemently disagree.

Don’t get me wrong, awareness of the esports industry by the mainstream population and the medical community will be beneficial. Gamers are susceptible to a unique set of injuries due to their lifestyles, and need educated and informed healthcare professionals. Addiction to gaming is very real, and needs to be addressed.

However, the WHO’s abstract, awkward wording of gaming disorder feels forced, and borderline ignorant.

The good news is, this new classification system will not take effect until at least 2022.

Until then, give Larry that one more game.

The Science of Gaming