Is Excessive Gaming a Disease? The WHO Is Considering Listing It as One

The World Health Organization is updating its International Classification of Diseases.
Gamers in Seoul, Korea Image: Wikipedia

Anyone who’s ever lost an hour engrossed in Candy Crush can recognize that games have a distinctly addictive quality. But while it’s easy to throw around the word “addicted,” excessive gaming can be a real, serious, and sometimes deadly condition that millions of people—particularly young people—suffer from, and now the World Health Organization is considering officially recognizing it as a disease.


When severe, people with video game addiction put gaming above even their own wellbeing, forgetting to bathe, sleep, or even eat. It can lead to depression and withdrawal symptoms, and extreme gaming addicts have died from lack of sleep.

The WHO’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD) is like an encyclopedia of all known diseases, and it’s the diagnostic standard for health agencies across the world, used to monitor statistics and report on epidemiology. It’s updated nearly every year and the draft version for 2018 includes, for the first time, a listing for gaming addiction.

Dubbed “gaming disorder” in the ICD, addiction is described as “a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour” that includes “impaired control over gaming, increasing 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.” It also noted that the behavior must be so extreme that it’s causing “significant impairment” to the rest of the person’s life, such as family, school, or work.

Read more: Confessions of a Semi-Reformed Video Game Completionist

Since this is only the draft version, we can’t say for certain that the WHO will include gaming addiction in its final update. But it’s been recognized under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the manual published by the American Psychiatric Association that classifies mental disorders, since 2013, so it’s not as if the medical community doesn’t already recognize the toll of this disorder.

People who don’t game may have trouble taking such a disorder seriously, but having it officially listed by the UN’s health organization will help more people realize the danger, and allow more people to get help.

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