Academics Rebuke World Health Organization's Video Game Addiction Classification

“The WHO’s process lacks transparency, is deeply flawed and lacks objective scientific support. We urge this process to be halted.”

A few months after the World Health Organization (WHO) announced plans to officially recognize "gaming disorder" as a mental health issue in the beta draft of its upcoming 11th International Classification of Diseases, 36 mental health professionals and academics have announced their opposition, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) pointed out today in a press release. 

Gaming disorders will be in the upcoming International Classification of Diseases, and, according to WHO spokesperson Gregory Hartl, "includes only a clinical description and not prevention and treatment options." But, according to the 36 independent researchers, the quality of the WHO's "existing evidence base is low," adding that even for people supporting the classification, there's still a lot of confusion in regards to what exactly a gaming disorder is. 

"Formalizing a disorder with the intention to improve research quality neglects the wider non-clinical societal context," they said. "Robust scientific standards are not (yet) employed. ... Moral panic might be influencing formalization and might increase due to it."

The researchers continue, saying an addiction needs to be "clearly and unambiguously established" before being classified as a mental health disorder – which, it appears, the Association doesn't believe the WHO has done.

And this isn't the first time the ESA has raised questions about the idea of video game addiction. In 2016, ESA vice president Dan Hewitt told Polygon, "Video game ‘addiction’ is a colloquial, loaded term with no real scientific or medical definition or broad support ... And it is important to remember that video game enthusiasm is often misinterpreted as ‘addiction.’ As such, ESA rejects any attempt by medical societies other than the APA, groups or for-profit entities to term this and we support the APA’s call for more research into computer and video games."

The 36 "internationally renowned and respected mental health experts, leading social scientists and academics from research centers and universities" in publishing a new research paper arguing against the WHO. The paper, titled "A Weak Scientific Basis for Gaming Disorder: Let us err on the side of caution," going further in-depth to all the aforementioned points, can be found here at the link.  

"Worldwide opposition to the WHO’s controversial and unproven classification of ‘Gaming Disorder’ continues to grow," Michael D. Gallagher, president and CEO of the ESA said. "The WHO’s process lacks transparency, is deeply flawed and lacks objective scientific support. We urge this process to be halted."

Correction: This article originally attributed quotes from 36 independent researchers to the ESA. The article has been adjusted accordingly. Glixel regrets this error.