Should video game addiction be classified as a mental disorder?

Officials at the World Health Organisation (WHO) are currently reviewing addiction to video games as a possible mental disorder. It has not yet been decided whether it is one, but when the 11th update of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) is finalised next year, things could change in regards to treatment for video game addicts, as well as how we perceive video games.

The WHO would list the following as characteristic of video game addiction:

  1. Impaired control over the onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination, or context of gaming;
  2. Increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities;
  3. The continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.

However, video game addiction is no outlier in addiction. Classifying it as a mental disorder, as some scientists have argued, would perhaps open up a gateway to countless subclassifications as well as other mental disorders, until you end up with even more stigma and over-diagnoses.

A paper published in the Journal of Behavioural Addictions also argued that “The ICD-11 proposal for Gaming Disorder should be removed to avoid a waste of public health resources as well as to avoid causing harm to healthy video gamers around the world”.

One expert in addiction, Dr. Gabor Mate — who researches addiction in Canadian First Nations people — has explained how addiction most typically comes from a source of pain, and that games, shopping, money, power, drugs and so forth are all ways to escape from some kind of distress, and that our culture does not support people sufficiently to deal with it.



“That’s always been the problem with these behavioural addictions,” said George Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Where do you draw the line? There are those who will argue that compulsive sexual behaviour can be addiction-like and others that consider it a joke.”

However, he does say that “Anything that’s causing—in my view—pain and suffering and manifests itself as a pathology deserves some attention.”

Addiction is a major issue in today’s world. Most experts agree that addiction is not just confined to drugs but to all kinds of stimuli, but some are seen as more dangerous or attention-worthy than others. This is interesting because the addiction to oil or power — things that are destroying our world — is seen as irrelevant, but the individual alcoholic or heroin addict is judged, hated, and often punished. Think of how the War on Drugs destroys so many people’s lives, despite everything we know about addiction.

Video game addiction — while it may not be as common as some people think — is an important issue that we must address.

But the question remains: is it more helpful or harmful to classify video game addiction and other addictions are mental disorders? Does this take away from the causes of an addict’s pain? Does this ignore the real roots of addiction?

As Maté explains, no drug is inherently addictive, because most people who try drugs don’t get addicted. Drugs are addictive to some, and not to others, just like television. But how do people become susceptible to addiction? And should the WHO, like other health organisations around the world, place more focus on the real causes of addiction and other disorders, before they classify them?


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Ambar Iqbal

Ambar is a Politics student at Kings College London. Her goal is to bring awareness to the important stories around the world, especially the ones that go unheard. She's appeared on the BBC, and is passionately involved with community organisation back home in Staffordshire.

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