Hey, World Health Organisation: The Scientific Basis For A ‘Gaming Disorder’ Is Weak

Hey, World Health Organisation: The Scientific Basis For A ‘Gaming Disorder’ Is Weak
Image: Amanda Yeo

The International Classification of Diseases is due for it’s next update in the middle of this year, and among the proposed revisions is the addition of a new “gaming disorder”.

Not everyone agrees with the inclusion – including more than 30 International and Australian researchers who just published a paper pointing out the weak scientific basis for a “gaming disorder”, and a lack of rigorous research.

There are a few reasons for the disagreement.

The researchers say not only is the quality of evidence for a gaming disorder low, there is confusion – even among those supporting the diagnosis – about what exactly gaming disorder is.

The World Health Organisation is is using similar criteria to define a gaming disorder as that used for gambling disorder. The researchers say this risks labelling behaviours “that are considered normal for millions of regular gamers”.

Would a gaming disorder relate only to gambling oriented games or to video games more generally? Is the problem behaviour caused by other underlying mental disorders, or is it a consequence of alluring game mechanics?

Are we diagnosing people who play online games or offline games, or both? And is gaming disorder just a subcategory of a broader Internet addiction disorder or perhaps just one of many behavioural addictions?

What, exactly, are the symptoms of gaming disorder? Or are we to presume that clinicians will know it when they see it?

As of this writing, the WHO appears to have proposed four separate categories for gaming disorders, all of which appear to differ from the DSM-5’s Internet Gaming Disorder. This suggests to us considerable confusion in the field regarding what gaming disorder is. In our view, too many critical questions remain unanswered to support formalising the disorder.

The researchers say moral panic is believed to be influencing the classification.

“It remains unclear what the clinical advantages are of a ‘gaming disorder’ label,” the researchers say, “The associated risks of stigmatisation and diagnostic inflation should be considered as well.”

The researchers also pointed out that research on the effects of technology on human behaviour is often riddled with methodological errors – and addiction research is no exception.

These researchers initially wrote a paper opposing the classification back in 2016, arguing there was a lack of consensus among researchers who study games.

Responses from other researchers who disagreed with their position were collected, and their points addressed in paper.

“Given the gravity of diagnostic classification and its wider societal impact,” the researchers say, “we urge our colleagues at the WHO to err on the side of caution for now and postpone the formalisation.”