‘Gaming disorder’ trivialises real mental health issues, the ESA say

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Update January 3, 2018: the ESA have responded to the WHO’s recent naming of two new videogames-related mental health disorders in its revised International Compendium of Diseases.

The ESA say the decision is not justified by the evidence, and risks trivialising genuine mental health issues.

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The ESA’s statement, as reported by Gamasutra, reads as follows:

“Just like avid sports fans and consumers of all forms of engaging entertainment, gamers are passionate and dedicated with their time. Having captivated gamers for more than four decades, more than two billion people around the world enjoy video games.

“The World Health Organization knows that common sense and objective research prove video games are not addictive. And, putting that official label on them recklessly trivializes real mental health issues like depression and social anxiety disorder, which deserve treatment and the full attention of the medical community. We strongly encourage the WHO to reverse direction on its proposed action.”

The Entertainment Software Association are a public affairs group representing the US games industry. They organise E3 every year, and count many leading developers among their membership.

Original story December 28, 2017:The World Health Organization (WHO) are considering naming two new mental health conditions in the latest revision to their International Compendium of Diseases: gaming disorder, and hazardous gaming. The conditions are named in the first draft of the revision, meaning the decision is not yet final.

Gaming disorder here is qualified by “impaired control over gaming,” “increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities,” and “continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.” Behaviour would need to be evident over the course of a year in order for a diagnosis to be made, except in cases of extreme severity. Diagnoses would be split between predominantly online and predominantly offline cases.

This definition of gaming disorder would be classified alongside gambling disorder in the behaviour category, which is in turn listed alongside “disorders due to substance use.” Classifying and treating behavioural addictions has always proven a tricky topic, since the criteria for addiction is much more abstract than it is for addictions like substance abuse. Psychologists speaking with Kotaku suggest that gaming addiction is more often a symptom of a condition like depression or anxiety.

A few months ago, a gaming addiction study was published that suggested the DSM’s definition of the disorder was similarly inconclusive, pointing out that this sort of addiction is often a symptom of other forms of dissatisfaction.