Is Video Game Addiction A Disorder?
A gaming disorder, sometimes referred to as “video game addiction,” is a pattern of game-playing behavior—involving online gaming or offline video games—that is difficult to control and that continues unabated despite serious negative consequences in other areas of the gamer’s life.
Experts debate whether severely problematic gaming truly constitutes an “addiction” in the same sense as drug and alcohol addictions. But disordered gaming behavior recently received official recognition as a mental health condition by the World Health Organization (WHO), which included “gaming disorder” in the 11th edition of its International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). According to that guide, gaming disorder is marked by “impaired control” over gaming, which leads to it taking priority over other interests and activities. The gaming behavior persists even as it causes “significant impairment” in areas such as personal relationships, school, or work.
While gaming disorder is not officially included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, widely used for behavioral health diagnoses in the U.S., the latest version of the manual—the DSM-5—refers to Internet Gaming Disorder as a condition for further study.
Among the tentative criteria for such a disorder are withdrawal symptoms, such as irritability or sadness, when Internet gaming ceases; tolerance, or an increasing need for gaming; deception about the amount of one’s gaming; and failed attempts to control one’s gaming.
When Is Gaming a Mental Health Problem?
Online and offline gaming can have social and recreational benefits, and most people who play them will not exhibit clinically problematic use. The kind of gaming behavior that concerns mental health experts involves a prolonged or recurring habit that comes at the expense of a person’s functioning outside of games and that may damage close relationships or interfere with the pursuit of educational or career goals.
A passionate engagement with games or even an extended bout of intense gaming doesn’t indicate a disorder or an addiction if it does not disrupt a person’s life. The ICD-11 advises that hard-to-control gaming that crowds out other aspects of life should typically be evident for a year or longer in order for a diagnosis to be made.
Since gaming disorders are defined and measured in different ways, estimates of their prevalence vary widely. Representatives of the WHO, which established gaming disorder as a diagnosis, have emphasized that those who could be classified as having it make up a small proportion of gamers overall. According to the DSM-5, disordered Internet gaming seems to appear most among male adolescents, and in Asian countries.