Dylan Vorster of Aperture Gaming concentrates in the VS Gaming Masters CS:GO tournament at the Rage expo earlier in May in Johannesburg. Picture: SCOTT PETER SMITH
Dylan Vorster of Aperture Gaming concentrates in the VS Gaming Masters CS:GO tournament at the Rage expo earlier in May in Johannesburg. Picture: SCOTT PETER SMITH

At its 72nd World Health Assembly last week, 194 members of the World Health Organisation (WHO) unanimously voted to adopt the 11th version of the International Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-11).

All in a day’s work for the WHO, except that this version of the ICD includes a new disease, which many parents, stoners or boys who will not grow up may never have previously thought of as anything except a stupid annoyance. That is because in spite of opposition from the people who make millions from designing them, addiction to video games is now officially recognised as an illness.

Like drugs, cigarettes, alcohol or gambling, excessive gaming is now a health problem according to the WHO, who describe the disorder as being “characterised by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences”.

The classification comes in the wake of increased attempts by gaming companies to use online rewards as a means of keeping players constantly returning thanks to daily login bonuses and other incentives built into the games.

The organisation hopes its inclusion of gaming addiction to the ICD-11, which comes into effect on January 1 2022, will “result in the increased attention of health professionals to the risks of development of this disorder and, accordingly, to relevant prevention and treatment measures”.

That might make them feel like they have done something about a relatively new phenomenon and its potentially terrible consequences but gaming companies are having none of it. A statement signed by trade bodies from the gaming industry in the UK, Europe, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, SA and Brazil has called on the WHO to change its decision.

In the statement, gaming companies and other interested parties claim: “Gaming disorder is not based on sufficiently robust evidence to justify inclusion in one of the WHO’s most important norm-setting tools … We are concerned they reached their conclusion without the consensus of the academic community. The consequences of today’s action could be far-reaching, unintended, and to the detriment of those in need of genuine help.”

Academic research published over the past few years has said that while there are definite effects on psychology and brain activity due to excessive playing of video games, further research is still needed to determine whether these effects are the result of gaming or linked to underlying issues such as depression or social anxiety.

That said, and in spite of its protests, industry big-players have acknowledged that whether or not addiction to their product is a definable illness, there are things they should do in order to address concerns around the problem.

In an interview with The Telegraph, the head of operations for Xbox told the paper that he puts, “The responsibility on us to go and engage in those conversations as much as the responsibility on them [WHO] to share the information. Once we clarify that and we do things like better research, we’re going to make more informed decisions collectively as an industry and a society. I don’t look at it as a nuisance or a stress point, it’s all about us doing the right thing.”