In Brief

Video Game Addiction Becomes Official Mental Disorder in Controversial Decision by WHO

A person playing a video game.
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Video games can be highly engrossing, but can some people become addicted to gaming? The World Health Organization (WHO) says yes.

Recently, the WHO officially recognized "gaming disorder" as a mental health condition — adding the disorder to the International Classification of Diseases, or the ICD-11, the organization's official diagnostic manual, according to CBS News.

Simply playing a lot of video games isn't enough to count as a disorder. Rather, the disorder occurs when gaming interferes with people's daily lives. According to the WHO, gaming disorder is a "pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior" in which people lose control of their gaming behavior, give priority to gaming over other interests and activities, and continue gaming despite negative consequences, such as impairments in their family relationships, social lives, work duties or other areas.

A person typically needs to have symptoms for a year in order to be diagnosed with the disorder, WHO said. [7 Ways to Short-Circuit Kids' Mobile Addiction]

The topic of video game addiction has been controversial. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) did not include video game addiction in its most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published in 2013. At that time, the APA said there wasn't enough evidence to determine whether gaming disorder is a unique mental health condition, but recommended further research in the area.

The video game industry also opposes the classification. In a statement released on Saturday (May 25), the Entertainment Software Association and others in the industry called on the WHO to reverse its decision, saying "gaming disorder" is not based on sufficiently robust evidence to justify inclusion."

But some mental health experts are supportive of the classification. On Twitter, Dr. John Jiao, an emergency medicine doctor, said the diagnosis was "sorely needed."

"Otherwise people with real, legitimate video game addiction can often have trouble with insurance paying for their therapy, especially if they don't fit any other diagnosis," Jiao tweeted.

Dr. Shekhar Saxena, a mental health expert for WHO, noted that only a small minority of people who play video games will develop addiction problems, according to Reuters.

Originally published on Live Science.

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.