By Sy Mukherjee
December 26, 2017

Video game addicts of the world: Your compulsion may be considered an official mental disorder. The World Health Organization (WHO) is preparing to include it its new global medical coding guidelines.

The WHO is currently whipping up a draft of the latest International Classification of Diseases (ICD), ICD-11. This set of universal medical codes is meant to make it easier to identify specific health disorders on a consistent basis across nations; the current version, ICD-10, is being updated. But ICD-11, which will be rolled out in 2018, will include a new proposed class of mental conditions called “gaming disorder.”

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The new codes are proposed under “Mental, behavioral, and neurodevelopmental” disorders under the subcategory of “Disorder due to substance abuse or addictive behavior.” That means that global health experts are arguing that there’s a case for lumping harmfully excessive video gaming alongside addiction to substances like alcohol or drugs.

Just how bad would a case of gaming disorder have to be in order to be considered a legitimate mental health concern? Here’s how the proposed guidelines describe it: “A pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior (‘digital gaming’ or ‘video-gaming’), which may be online (i.e., over the internet) or offline, manifested by: 1) impaired control over gaming (e.g., onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination, context); 2) increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities; and 3) continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”

In short, the gaming addiction would have to be so severe that it disrupts the addict’s personal and professional life and relationships. An observed one-year period of addiction would be required for someone’s case to be classified as gaming addiction under the ICD-11 draft. Strikingly, while one type of digital addiction may be creating a new kind of mental disease, video games are also being explored as a means to treat mental disorders like Alzheimer’s and ADHD.

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