The gaming industry has begun, on a global scale, to push back against the World Health Organization (WHO) decision to make gaming addiction disorder an officially recognised disease last year. The WHO has drafted definitions for “gaming disorder” and “hazardous gaming” that are due to be rolled out officially in literature later this year; they are also proposed for entry into the frequently updated and revised International Compendium of Diseases.
Now, the gaming industry knows that, in order to push back with any chance of success at an established scientific body like the WHO, they must do so in highly rigorous and scientific terms. Thus, it probably should come as no surprise that the industry’s first riposte is in the form of an academic paper forthcoming in the Journal of Behavioural Addictions. Classed as a debate paper, this document, titled “A weak scientific basis for gaming disorder: Let us err on the side of caution,” carries ten commentaries and contributions from over thirty authors, principally social scientists and mental health researchers. It is being publicised by no fewer than 22 trade bodies internationally, across more than twenty countries.
The paper contends that the formal definition of gaming disorder should be deferred in preference of further research, arguing that there is a “genuine risk of abuse of diagnoses” and indicating that this research should focus most on those who stand to gain from the instantiation of the definition, namely those who might access insurance options and/or treatment as a consequence of the newly defined disease.
The paper also puts forward the case that highly active gamers might be in danger of being misdiagnosed as problem gamers under current treatment of the definition:
“Hundreds of millions of people spend billions of hours each week playing games (Brown, 2017; Lanxon, 2017; McGonigal, 2011). A move to pathologize gaming could have important ramifications for the potentially stigmatized or misdiagnosed healthy “highly engaged” gamers, a group that has been identified (in representative samples that postulated its existence) as comprising between 1.1% and 10.9% of the gaming population (Colder Carras, Van Rooij, et al., 2017; Colder Carras & Kardefelt-Winther, n.d.; Van Rooij, Schoenmakers, Vermulst, Van den Eijnden, & van de Mheen, 2011; Wittek et al., 2016). This is a group that may strongly resemble problematic cases in the current diagnostic approaches such as the WHO and DSM-5 frameworks, but that does not seem to experience significant life impairment as a consequence of their gaming (Deleuze et al., 2017;Snodgrass et al., 2014, 2018).”
The paper also makes the argument that children deserve a voice in any medical decision to create such a definition, as they are most certainly “stakeholders” in the attendant issues: “According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, children have a fundamental right to have their voices heard in matters that concern them: formalizing a disorder classification that involves one of children’s most popular everyday behaviors certainly concerns them.”
It’s a fascinating debate at a rarified intellectual level, and certainly this paper does not put the issue to rest. We can expect to see more academic volleys to come over what would be a key decision which would directly affect the world’s most lucrative form of media.