A Closer Look at “Gaming Disorder” Part 2: Controversies Surrounding the Gaming Disorder Classification | Healthy Gamer



A Closer Look at “Gaming Disorder” Part 2: Controversies Surrounding the Gaming Disorder Classification

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A Closer Look at “Gaming Disorder” Part 2: Controversies Surrounding the Gaming Disorder Classification

This article features a gamers take on the WHO’s recent classification of Gaming Disorder

May of 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) voted to pass its 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). In this revision, WHO introduced a new condition: “Gaming Disorder.” Beyond the polarized opinions on this decision, it is important to take a closer look at what the decision actually entails, what each side are saying, and what does all of this mean for fellow gamers.

In this multi-part series, we will explore


Part 2: Controversies Surrounding the Classification

The decision to include “Gaming Disorder” in ICD-11 was met with a mixed bag of responses. Some celebrated the classification, believing that it will draw more attention and effort to help struggling gamers. However, others are concerned about the ramifications that the Gaming Disorder classification may bring, and are thus opposed to it.

  • The Gamers

The backlash was intense. Upset gamers took to the Internet to voice their frustration and ridicule; many of them believed that this was yet another attempt to demonize one of their favorite pastimes. However, responses from gamers beyond the initial backlash were more collected; some of such responses were actually quite nuanced and comprehensive [1]. In fact, some in the gaming community have already taken the initiative to explore video game addiction, way before WHO’s classification came to light [2] [3].

With several incidences of gamers discussing their own struggles with a Gaming Disorder.

  • The Industry

Understandably, members of the gaming industry were not thrilled about the classification. They believe that video games are a safe and enjoyable activity for many, and that the classification is unfounded. This sentiment was evident in a joint statement from the gaming industry commenting on the classification.

“Video games across all kinds of genres, devices and platforms are enjoyed safely and sensibly by
more than 2 billion people worldwide, with the educational, therapeutic, and recreational value of
games being well-founded and widely recognized. We are therefore concerned to see ‘gaming
disorder’ still contained in the latest version of the WHO’s ICD-11 despite significant opposition
from the medical and scientific community. The evidence for its inclusion remains highly contested
and inconclusive. We hope that the WHO will reconsider the mounting evidence put before them
before proposing inclusion of ‘gaming disorder’ in the final version of ICD-11 to be endorsed next
year. We understand that our industry and supporters around the world will continue raising their
voices in opposition to this move and urge the WHO to avoid taking steps that would have
unjustified implications for national health systems across the world.” [4]

Some would argue that there are major conflicts of interest involved behind this statement. Video games are what the video game industry is based on after all. Incidents such as the inclusion of “Gaming Disorder” can provide ammunition for and incentive to place restrictions on the industry, which is something the gaming industry evidently does not want.

Image Via: League Of Legends – Riot Games

  • The Academia

Video game addiction as a legitimate diagnosis has been a topic of heavy debate in the academic sphere over the past years. This was only exacerbated by WHO’s decision to give “Gaming Disorder” the green light.

Scholars against the decision published several papers about the subject. The open debate paper from 2017 [5] is one that was particularly circulated around media sites. A separate paper from 2018 [6] also repeated some of the similar points raised in the first one.

  • Classifying “Gaming Disorder” can lead to misdiagnosis. The scholars argue that simply adapting substance use and gambling criteria to video games is just not enough. Lack of understanding for the nature of video games can lead to misdiagnosis. For example, someone who uses video games as a coping strategy may have their root problems overlooked.
  • Classifying “Gaming Disorder” can lead to a confirmatory instead of exploratory approach to research. Instead of evaluating whether “Gaming Disorder” is a legitimate condition, researchers may go on to assume that with the classification from WHO, the legitimacy is set in stone. This can lead to confirmation bias for future studies, as the possibility of “Gaming Disorder” as an invalid condition may be no longer considered.
  • Classifying “Gaming Disorder” can lead to social stigma and moral panic. Video games has been under fire for various reasons in the past few decades, and portrayal of video games in mainstream media has not been particularly favorable either. The inclusion of “Gaming Disorder” can lead to further demonizing of video games in the public’s eyes.
  • Scholars for the decision also published their own papers, some as a direct response to the ones against the decision. Respectively from 2017 [7] and 2018 [8] as well, these papers serve as commentaries on some of the concerns raised by scholars against WHO’s decision.
  • The criteria provided for “Gaming Disorder” avoids premature diagnosis by placing specific emphasis on impairment to daily functioning. This allows health professionals to differentiate healthy gaming behaviors from unhealthy ones.
  • Social stigma and moral panic tends to stem from misinformation, and in this case the benefit of classification outweighs its drawbacks. A similar case can be made for many other classified disorders. An example given is how eating disorder was nonetheless classified despite the possibility that it may stigmatize people who enjoys eating or people who are overweight/underweight.
  • The decision to classify “Gaming Disorder’ is based on public clinical health needs. Various studies done in Europe and Asia have shown that there is a significant existing body of gamers that struggles with their gaming habits. Current health service solutions for these struggling gamers are very limited. Through this classification, more attention may be given to this problem.

In Conclusion


WHO’s decision to classify “Gaming Disorder” is evidently one that is controversial. While the gamers, the gaming industry, and the academia all have their own biases, they all nonetheless brought up some really good arguments for their perspectives. Classifying “Gaming Disorder” may lead to more effort to help struggling gamers, but it may also have unintended consequences such as inadvertently demonizing an activity many healthily enjoy.

The important thing to remember is that not everyone who games regularly is a gaming addict, there are key requirements to being diagnosed with a gaming disorder. You can read more about that in part 1 of this series. [Link]

Part 3: Historical Context

Video game addiction is not something that has only recently surfaced. In fact, efforts to examine this phenomenon can date all the way back to the 1980s! Continue to part 3 to learn more about the historical context behind “Gaming Disorder.” [Link]


[1]: Bellular News. (2019). “Gaming Disorder” Made Official Disease By The WHO – What It Means For You. YouTube. [Link]

[2]: Extra Credits. (2012). Game Addiction. YouTube. [Link]

[3]: Downward Thrust. (2018). The Bitter Reality of Video Game Addiction. YouTube. [Link]

[4]: ESA. et al. (2018). Statement on WHO ICD-11 List and the Inclusion of Gaming. European Games Developer Federation.  [Link]

[5]: Aarseth, E. et al. (2017). Scholars’ open debate paper on the World Health Organization ICD-11 Gaming Disorder proposal. Journal of Behavioral Addictions. [Link]

[6]: Van Rooj, A. et al. (2018). A weak scientific basis for gaming disorder: Let us err on the side of caution. Journal of Behavioral Addictions. [Link]

[7]: Billieux, J. et al. (2017). Functional impairment matters in the screening and diagnosis of gaming disorder. Journal of Behavioral Addictions. [Link]

[8]: Rumpf, H. et al. (2018). Including gaming disorder in the ICD-11: The need to do so from a clinical and public health perspective. Journal of Behavioral Addictions. [Link]

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