The World Health Organization is considering adding "gaming disorder" to its list of mental health conditions, meaning that a doctor would be able to diagnose a patient with the disorder if it gets in the way of other activities.
Under a draft of the International Classification of Diseases, which isn't final yet, WHO would, beginning in 2018, define gaming disorder as "a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior, which may be online or offline." To fit the description, someone must show dependency on video or digital gaming for at least a year, but a doctor can take less time to evaluate a patient if signs are particularly severe.
Signs would include impaired control over gaming and allowing it to get in the way of daily activities such as a job or school, or spending time with family and friends. Another sign would be when a person continues to play even after experiencing negative consequences from it. One example would be if someone missed work to play games and was fired as a result, but could not bring himself to give it up. It also could include someone neglecting his or her children to play video games.
The WHO's draft definition doesn't say how many hours someone must spend gaming for it to be considered "excessive," nor does it recommend a specific treatment. The disorder is categorized under the guide's section on substance abuse and addictive behaviors.
The International Classification of Diseases, or ICD, was last updated in 1990, and is a widely used manual that helps healthcare providers diagnose patients.
Gaming disorder is not included in another guide, called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5, which U.S. mental health providers use. In the 2013 edition, the manual noted only that Internet gaming disorder was a "condition for further study."
People ages 13 and over spent an average of more than six hours a week playing virtual games in 2013, according to a Nielsen study. Experts also have blamed excessive gaming for issues such as childhood obesity, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and increased aggression. Some commentators have even blamed violent video games for mass shootings.
Still, there is ongoing, government-funded research on how gaming can be flipped to improve healthcare outcomes such as encouraging people to make healthier decisions. Research also has shown that gaming can improve coordination and quicken decision making.