WHO rules on gaming addiction

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WHO rules on gaming addiction

A decision-making committee at the World Health Organization (WHO) has officially classified gaming addiction as a mental disorder despite fierce opposition from the gaming industry and related experts.

Committee B of the World Health Assembly held in Geneva unanimously approved the revision of the International Classification of Disease, Eleventh Revision (ICD-11) on Saturday. The decision will be reported to a plenary committee meeting on Tuesday and will later require adoption strategies for each WHO member state.

The WHO included gaming disorder in a draft of ICD-11 last year, but was awaiting official designation and endorsement from its members. With the committee’s approval Saturday, the new classification will go into effect from the start of 2022.

Addiction to video games, both online and offline, will now fall in the same category as substance abuse and gambling addiction. The WHO says on its website that gaming addiction could result in “significant impairments in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.”

Over the years, the ICD has served as a diagnosis guideline for doctors and a basis for health insurers in providing reimbursement for policyholders.

The move has been met with heavy criticism from the gaming industry and some medical experts as it lacks conclusive scientific proof and could cause a significant downturn in the gaming industry.

Although there have been reported cases of people whose lives were damaged from playing games too much, some experts claim society needs to concentrate on why people resort to gaming addiction in the first place.

“There really isn’t any good evidence that games are causing an epidemic,” said Christopher Ferguson, a psychology professor at Stetson University in Florida, at a conference hosted by the Game Science Forum in Seoul earlier this month.

“Games don’t make people violent. It seems to be things like academic stress that contribute to violence, but not the gaming itself.”

Those who object to the codification also believe the addition of gaming addiction as a mental disorder could prevent Korea’s gaming industry from reaching its full potential.

According to a report from researchers at Seoul National University published last year, the Korean government is expected to enforce a number of regulations and prevent access to games in an attempt to follow the WHO’s decision.

The report claims that the change would be similar to how the tobacco industry faced profit drops when the WHO codified smoking addiction as a disease in 1980.

It predicted that the domestic gaming industry will shrink from an expected 16.87 trillion won ($14.23 billion) to 11.67 trillion won in size by 2025. The domestic game industry’s workforce size would also shrink from 37,673 employees to 28,949 by the same year.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism expressed its objection to the WHO codifying gaming addiction as a disease by sending a letter to the organization earlier this month.

The gaming industry also formed a task force of 27 organizations and 16 universities in an attempt to challenge the WHO’s decision.

The task force, led by Wi Jong-hyun, president of the Korea Academic Society of Games, contends that classifying gaming addiction as a mental disorder is a step backward in an age where technology education is emphasized.

BY KO JUN-TAE [ko.juntae@joongang.co.kr]
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