The World Health Organization announced Monday that they plan to add “gaming disorder” to their manual of disease classifications as a mental health condition.
The decision immediately led to disagreement among experts over whether an addiction to playing video games qualifies for the list, which also includes addictions to alcohol and marijuana, along with various internal diseases like respiratory or immune disorders.
WHO defined gaming disorder back in January as “impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”
The organization also emphasized that gaming disorder is something that has to be diagnosed, and that it “affects only a small proportion of people who engage in digital- or video- only gaming activities.”
Dr. Kevin Gilliland, a clinical psychologist and member of PEOPLE’s Health Squad, believes it’s “too soon” for WHO to take this stance without further research.
“I think it’s a little too soon to have it as a disorder,” he says. “I like the way the American Psychiatric Association put it — that there is enough information here to seem that people can have significant problems from gaming, but it is a diagnosis that we need to have future studies on. The field of internet gaming research has not progressed to the point where we have proactively designed these studies, agreed on what we have to measure and assigned it out.”
Gilliland says that parents or friends should not be concerned about possible gaming addictions until it reaches a substantial level.
“A lot of the symptoms are similar to what we see with drugs and alcohol, but there has to be clinically significant impairment, meaning the person who is gaming — whether it’s an adolescent or a young adult — are gaming to a point where it’s disrupting their sleep, or their eating, or their physical activity level or if their gaming interferes with work. It has to be a significant pattern over a decent amount of time,” he says.
Gilliland points out that for many people, a love of gaming is no different than other interests.
“We’ve all got something — like who hasn’t binge-watched a series and been tired before work? Maybe you got into Game of Thrones and watched all six seasons. That’s just bad decisions, that’s not a disorder, or a mental disorder. You’ve got to see a severity, and it has to exist over a significant amount of time,” he says. “It has to be that it got so bad that you failed out of school, or you lost your job. Otherwise, we’re going to open Pandora’s box, because then you’re just talking about behaviors that we’re obsessive about. As humans, we are obsessive. At what point are you going to talk about someone’s love of golf, or yoga, or TV?”
But, Gilliland adds, more research could eventually point to gaming as a disorder — we just do not know at this point.
“We can’t say that gaming is on par with those other disorders; we don’t have that data. We might someday, but we don’t today,” he says.