Videogaming Might Be Classifiable as Mental Illness Even Though It Has Benefits

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Videogaming Might Be Classifiable as Mental Illness Even Though It Has Benefits

This article is not meant to diagnose or provide medical advice—that responsibility lies with physicians. The author is not a licensed medical professional.

If you’re prone to lengthy Mario Kart sessions at the expense of everything but breathing, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is onto you. This health care high power proposed the addition of Gaming Disorder to the ICD-11 (International Classification of Diseases, edition 11), listed under “Disorders due to addictive behaviors.”

“Gaming disorder is manifested by a persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour characterised by an impaired control over gaming,” WHO’s proposal describes. So, what’s the difference between garden-variety gaming and full-blown Gaming Disorder? As it turns out, not much …

Why Gaming Disorder Has the Internet up in Arms

WHO’s proposed disorder has pushed buttons in both the gaming community and academia. In an open letter to WHO, 24 academics from eight countries described how formalizing Gaming Disorder would create “negative medical, scientific, public-health, societal and human rights fallout.”

An ICD-11 inclusion could turn a potentially healthy hobby into pathology, possibly even creating an over-diagnosis epidemic with Gaming Disorder as the condition du jour. It all depends on who’s analyzing the behavior. My mother still struggles to believe that I can participate in weekly raids and function optimally IRL, so here’s hoping her kind doesn’t have a PsyD …

What Pathologizing Gaming Could Mean for Mental Health Treatment

It’s reasonable to argue that pathological gaming behaviors do exist. Remember the baby who starved to death thanks to her parents’ addiction to a (now) discontinued MMORPG?

The problem is that Gaming Disorder diagnosis might not stick to true mental health diagnosis and treatment. Instead, its inclusion could popularize age-old narratives of children filled with murderous urges after killing too many prostitutes on Grand Theft Auto.

If politicized, Gaming Disorder’s inclusion could call the future of many health care advances into question. Games and gamification—game elements in nongame contexts—have enhanced mental health treatment in ways that cannot be ignored.

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