By recognising ‘internet gaming disorder’ as a disease, the World Health Organization says greater treatment can now be offered, but the lucrative industry is outraged.
The internet has lately been awash with news of children unable to stop playing Fortnite, a battle royale video game that has quickly become the most popular game on the planet. With a staggering 125m players at the time of writing, it generated nearly $300m in April alone for its creator, Epic Games.
In just one example, the Mirror reported that a nine-year-old girl got so hooked on the game that she punched her father in the face after he tried to confiscate her console.
But now, once a document by the World Health Organization (WHO) is signed off, ‘internet gaming disorder’ will officially be entered into the organisation’s latest revision of the International Classification of Diseases.
In doing so, video game addiction will be seen as a ‘clinically recognisable and clinically significant syndrome’ in the same vein as alcoholism.
When the draft proposal was first announced in March, the WHO said that health concerns around gaming also extend to other aspects of health including sleep deprivation, musculoskeletal problems and depression.
Speaking with The New York Times, Dr Petros Levounis, chair of the psychiatry department at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, welcomed the decision.
“It’s going to untie our hands in terms of treatment, in that we’ll be able to treat patients and get reimbursed,” he said.
“We won’t have to go dancing around the issue, calling it depression or anxiety or some other consequence of the issue but not the issue itself.”
He also went on to compare examples of gaming addiction he has come across with other patients who had cocaine addictions.
Unsurprisingly, the gaming industry has been fiercely critical of the decision, with the Entertainment Software Association describing the WHO’s process as “deeply flawed” and lacking “objective scientific support”.
It added: “The educational, therapeutic and recreational value of games is well established and recognised. Games are a useful tool to acquire key competencies, skills and attitudes required for a successful life in a digital society.”
Other medical practitioners have also come forward criticising the WHO’s decision, with Nancy Perry, an addiction professor with the University of Connecticut, insisting that internet gaming disorder is actually a side effect or symptom of other established conditions such as depression or anxiety.