WHO Sees Video Game Addiction as a Mental Health Problem

The World Health Organization classified a new kind of mental disease on Monday. It seems that now, a person that compulsively plays video games is suffering from a mental health condition.

The reactions were, obviously, mixed. Parent’s fears were confirmed, and critics warned that the WHO statement might stigmatize young video players.

The UN health agency stated that the new classification of the condition as a separate mental disease would “serve a public health purpose for countries to be better prepared to identify this issue.”

“Gaming Disorder”

The one that accepted that “Gaming Disorder” to be listed as a new mental health problem is Dr. Shekhar Saxena (director of WHO’s department for mental health). Saxena explains that the new classification was done after scientific evidence and seeing “the need and the demand for treatment in many parts of the world.”

British Psychological Society spokeswoman Dr. Joan Harvey stated that the disorder only affects a minority of gamers and that this classification will concern many parents:

“People need to understand this doesn’t mean every child who spends hours in their room playing games is an addict, otherwise medics are going to be flooded with requests for help.”

In the US, the American Psychiatric Association has not classified “Gaming Disorder” as a new mental health problem. They stated that it’s a “condition warranting more clinical research and experience before it might be considered for inclusion.” The group also noted that there is scientific literature on compulsive gamers, but it’s based only on evidence on young men in Asia:

“The studies suggest that when these individuals are engrossed in Internet games, certain pathways in their brains are triggered in the same direct and intense way that a drug addict’s brain is affected by a particular substance. The gaming prompts a neurological response that influences feelings of pleasure and reward, and the result, in the extreme, is manifested as addictive behavior,” wrote the association in a 2013 statement.

It’s Like Gambling – Gamers Use Points

Dr. Mark Griffiths, distinguished professor of behavioral addiction at Nottingham Trent University, has researched the video gaming disorder for 30 years, and admits that the classification can help legitimize the problem:

“Video gaming is like a non-financial kind of gambling from a psychological point of view. Gamblers use money as a way of keeping score whereas gamers use points.”

However, he stated that video game players that have a compulsive disorder are a lot less than 1%. Many of those that suffer from the disorder might have other problems like depression, bipolar disorder or autism. WHO’s Saxena’s estimations are higher: 2-3%.

Griffith explains that most of the people play games for fun:

“You have these short, obsessive bursts and yes, people are playing a lot, but it’s not an addiction.”

Rex Austin

Rex Austinwas born and raised in Thunder Bay Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior. Apart from running his own podcast (Ice Fishing And Other “Cool” Things), he spends his time canoeing and backpacking in Northern Ontario.. As a journalist Rex has published stories for Global News (Thunder Bay) we well as Buzz Feed and Joystiq. As a contributor to Great Lakes Ledger, Rex most covers science and health stories. Contact Rexhere