“Gaming Disorder” to be classified as a mental health disorder in 2018

Gaming Disorder will be widely recognized by medical professionals in 2018 as a mental health disorder, thanks to the World Health Organization's 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11).

The ICD-11, which contains medical coding to classify diseases, will have Gaming Disorder listed under “Disorders due to substance use or addictive behaviors” in the Mental Disorders section of the diagnostic manual. The only other disorder listed in the subsection of “addictive behaviors,” next to Gaming Disorder, is Gambling Disorder. Hazardous Gaming is also listed as a "factor influencing health status" in the ICD-11.

In the most up-to-date draft of the ICD-11, WHO characterizes Gaming Disorder as a “pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior…manifested by impaired control over gaming, [increased] priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.” The organization also recognizes that the behavioral patterns–continuous, episodic, and/or recurrent–related to Gaming Disorder may result in “significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.”

This is the first time that a gaming-related disorder has been officially termed by the medical community since the inclusion of “Internet Gaming Disorder” (IGD) in the DSM-5, or the Fifth Edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, in 2013. IGD, however, isn’t officially recognized as a formal disorder by professionals yet, since it was put into the DSM-5 as a condition needing “further study.” The American Psychiatric Association has called for more clinical research into the compulsiveness, symptoms of addictive withdrawal, and other poor health behaviors from gamers—that way clinicians can properly identify definitive and observational features of Gaming Disorder before diagnoses can be made.

In a 2015 survey of German teenagers, it was found that students who fit the criteria for IGD tended to play for longer periods, skip school more frequently, have lower grades, and have more sleep problems than students who didn’t fit the IGD criteria. It’s likely that substantially more research regarding Gaming Disorder/IGD will be conducted in the coming years, as researchers begin to gain a better psychological understanding of the disorder.

WHO’s description of Gaming Disorder doesn’t account for professional esports players whose main occupation is to compete for money and for glory. Luckily for the players, there are already several medical professionals working with teams, such as Dr. Matthew Hwu of CLG, to help manage player health and prevent injury.

The WHO’s classification of Gaming Disorder as a mental health disorder is expected to be official some time in 2018, when ICD-11 is released.