Video game industry hits back after WHO states ‘gaming disorder’ is real

27 May 2019

Image: © Anastassiya/

The video game industry has claimed that the WHO’s rubberstamping of ‘gaming disorder’ as an illness is not based on clear evidence.

The multibillion-dollar video game industry has strongly criticised the World Health Organization (WHO) after its 194 member states included ‘gaming disorder’ in the latest version of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-11).

While the text was finalised last year, this rubberstamping means that the classification will come into effect on 1 January 2022. Under ICD-11, gaming disorder is classified as “a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour which may be online or offline”.

It manifests as a person giving increasing priority to video games over daily activities, continuing to play while knowing it may have negative consequences and having a general inability to control how long they play.

The WHO wrote: “Gaming behaviour and other features are normally evident over a period of at least 12 months in order for a diagnosis to be assigned, although the required duration may be shortened if all diagnostic requirements are met and symptoms are severe.”

Increased attention of health professionals

One of the biggest groups representing the video games industry, the Entertainment Software Association, has hit out at the decision to pass ICD-11 with the classification of gaming disorder, saying it needs to be based on “regular, inclusive and transparent reviews backed by independent experts”.

It said in a statement: “Gaming disorder is not based on sufficiently robust evidence to justify its inclusion in one of the WHO’s most important norm-setting tools.” It added that, rather, the gaming industry plays a leading role in advancing research into areas such as mental health, dementia and cancer.

In a very similar statement, the Interactive Software Federation of Europe (ISFE) also said the classification was unjustified. “We are concerned that gaming disorder is not based on sufficiently robust evidence to justify inclusion in one of the WHO’s most important norm-setting tools,” said ISFE’s CEO, Simon Little. “Once set in stone, conditions can be left on this list for many years inappropriately.”

The WHO refutes these claims, however, stating gaming disorder’s inclusion “follows the development of treatment programmes for people with health conditions identical to those characteristic of gaming disorder in many parts of the world”, adding that it “will result in the increased attention of health professionals to the risks of development of this disorder and, accordingly, to relevant prevention and treatment measures”.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic