4 min read

The Gaming Community Unhappy with WHO’s “Gaming Disorder” Classification

The WHO proposed to classify gaming as a disorder in its forthcoming 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), a move which has ignited rebuke from all quarters—from the gaming community as well as the academic community.

The World Health Organization (WHO) decision to list gaming disorder as an addictive health condition has greatly been flawed because of its lack of transparency, insufficient scientific support, and poor understanding of the gaming habit.

WHO classification criteria

The WHO, an agency of the United Nations, defined gaming disorder as:

A pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized 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 agency that is concerned with international public health affirmed that for the disorder to be diagnosed, a person must show enough signs that impair their normal engagements in day-to-day activities, for a minimum period of 12 months or shorter.

The WHO said that it consulted various experts before making the decision to recognize extensive gaming habits as a disorder. Furthermore, it asserted that the addition of gaming disorder in ICD-11 will give health professionals some ground for prescribing appropriate prevention and treatment measures.

Reaction of the gaming community

The gaming community has been perturbed by the decision of the WHO. Several gaming enthusiasts and organizations have heavily criticized the move and rebuked the agency’s intention to stir waters unnecessarily in the gaming world.

The Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the trade association dedicated to serving the interests of the computer and video games companies in the U.S., has openly refuted the WHO declaration on several occasions.

Here is one of the strongly worded statements from the ESA:

Just like avid sports fans and consumers of all forms of engaging entertainment, gamers are passionate and dedicated with their time. Having captivated gamers for more than four decades, more than two billion people around the world enjoy video games. 

The World Health Organization knows that common sense and objective research prove video games are not addictive. And, putting that official label on them recklessly trivializes real mental health issues like depression and social anxiety disorder, which deserve treatment and the full attention of the medical community. We strongly encourage the World Health Organization to reverse direction on its proposed action.”

Another statement jointly signed by the ESA, Interactive Entertainment South Africa (IESA), Interactive Games & Entertainment Association (IGEA), European Games Developer Federation (EGDF), Korea Association of Game Industry, and other renowned gaming organizations around the world emphasized that:

We are concerned to see ‘gaming disorder’ still contained in the latest version of the WHO’s ICD-11 despite significant opposition from the medical and scientific community. The evidence for its inclusion remains highly contested and inconclusive. 

We hope that the WHO will reconsider the mounting evidence put before them before proposing inclusion of ‘gaming disorder’ in the final version of ICD-11 to be endorsed later in 2018.”

Furthermore, the academic community backs the gaming community strongly. For example, in 2013, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) made a proposal to classify extensive video game activities as a form of mental disorder but abandoned the idea because of insufficient evidence. Unlike the WHO, the APA urged for further studies in this area.

In 2016, a group of 36 internationally recognized mental health professionals and academicians released a paper openly criticizing the WHO’s gaming disorder proposal.

Two years, later the same group of researchers reiterated their opposition to the WHO plan. They again published a scientific paper urging the agency to abandon the proposal terming it as “weak” because of lack of sufficient information and evidence.

The researchers restated the need for their colleagues at WHO to “err on the side of caution” on this matter.

Wrapping up

The WHO proposal to include gaming as a disorder in its latest classification of diseases is a deliberate attempt to derail the significant gains the industry has made. Games are highly popular and are played safely and sensibly throughout the world—just like any other form of sport.

Video games are greatly loved because of their ability to enhance strategic thinking, entertain, and assist in treatment of patients. Therefore, any attempt to classify them as a disorder is ill-conceived, immature, and can create unnecessary moral panic.

Similarly, you can learn how to create great video games that people can enjoy for recreational, educational, and therapeutic purposes. For example, Nikitka, who has more than seven years of game development experience, teaches people how to create instant arcade games. You can learn from him and have your foot in the lucrative gaming industry.

Or, do you think that WHO’s classification of gaming as a disorder is warranted?

Please let me know in the comment section below.


Latest Jobs


Playa Vista, California
Audio Engineer

Digital Extremes

London, Ontario, Canada
Communications Director

High Moon Studios

Carlsbad, California
Senior Producer

Build a Rocket Boy Games

Edinburgh, Scotland
Lead UI Programmer
More Jobs   


Register for a
Subscribe to
Follow us

Game Developer Account

Game Developer Newsletter


Register for a

Game Developer Account

Gain full access to resources (events, white paper, webinars, reports, etc)
Single sign-on to all Informa products

Subscribe to

Game Developer Newsletter

Get daily Game Developer top stories every morning straight into your inbox

Follow us


Follow us @gamedevdotcom to stay up-to-date with the latest news & insider information about events & more