The World Health Organization has recognized excessive video game-playing as a new addiction disorder. According to its updated diagnostic manual, the condition is now, officially, known as “gaming disorder.”
This new analysis is not to be taken lightly. That is to say “gaming disorder” does not simply refer to someone who plays too many games. Playing video games can be a hobby, and for many people—introverts, especially—it can be an effective way to have a social life without having to deal with some of the stressors that might go along with traditional interpersonal relationships.
In terms of the new WHO definition, excessive gaming becomes a disorder when it interferes with daily life. This makes sense, actually, as it aligns with the standard definition of any addiction. For example, a person might have a few drinks every night—maybe two glasses of wine or a few beers after work—but that does not constitute a problem. However, if those drinks start to make it hard to function, then we start to examine it as a potential addiction.
This is the same with gaming disorder. When a person loses control around gaming or prioritizes the playing of games (or spending money on games instead of bills or other necessities) that is when it starts to be viewed as a pathology. When a person continues to play games in spite of its negative impact on work or social or family life, that is when it the WHO says it is a disorder. And in most cases, the WHO classifies this as a consistent 12 month period of symptoms to receive a proper diagnosis.
This diagnosis—or, perhaps, guideline—comes at an important time. The gaming industry (console and online video games) turned about $44 billion in sales last year. That is more than movie theatres and streaming services combined. According to data from 2018, at least 167 million Americans play electronic video games, and most of these are online. In fact, video games have replaced other online activities, like Facebook and other social media platforms.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, no more than 1 percent of the world’s population could suffer from gaming disorder at this time. While that is equivalent to about 75 million people, it is still a small number; and the video game industry continues to dispute the classification. Still, health experts remind that the disorder is less about the particular fixation (whether it is alcohol or drugs or games) and about how activity begins to take precedence over healthy lifestyle choices.