The World Health Organization (WHO) is adding “6D11 - gaming disorder” to its upcoming list of diseases and disorders. With the rise of e-sports, playthroughs on YouTube and mobile gaming, where do we draw the line between a fun hobby and a crippling addiction?

Gaming disorder, listed in the upcoming International Classification of Diseases (ICD), is listed under the “Disorders due to addictive behaviors” category. This is the same category as gambling addictions and other addictive behaviors that do not involve substance abuse like drugs or alcohol.

Gaming disorder is similar to the DSM-5 condition of internet gaming disorder. The DSM-5 is the latest revision to the handbook used by psychiatric practitioners to categorize and diagnose mental disorders.

Conditions of the disorder

There are the three key characteristics of gaming disorder according to the description found in the current ICD-11 draft.

  1. “Impaired control over gaming.” - such as when and how long someone is gaming
  2. “Increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities.”
  3. “Continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”

These symptoms must be evident over the course of 12 months unless symptoms are severe enough that action must be taken sooner.

The game in question can be either online or offline, multiplayer or single.

The one exception is games that have a gambling aspect to them like online poker or slot machines. These kinds of games fall under a gambling addiction rather than gaming disorder.

There is discussion whether certain modern video games such as Blizzard’s "Overwatch" and EA’s "Star Wars Battlefront II" should be considered gambling due to their “loot box” reward system of giving players a random set of in-game items or boosts by paying real money or earning them on an exponential difficulty curve.

Countries such as Belgium are already moving towards banning the practice.

It is important to note that the gaming disorder condition is related primarily to social and personal impairment. There is a separate hazardous gaming disorder that relates to physical or mental health consequences of a Gaming Addiction.

Where to draw the line

In an interview with the BBC, Dr. Richard Graham of the Nightingale Hospital in London stated his approval of the recognition but understood why this would concern some parents. Some parents might confuse a child who is enthusiastic with one that has a serious addiction.

Most likely, the people you know are not suffering from gaming disorder. The line seems to be drawn in relation to moderation. Someone can be passionate about beer, even going as far as to homebrew it themselves. Does that mean they are an addict? Most likely not. It is when someone brings themselves to the point of not being able to function without their vice that it is a problem.

If you or someone you know are concerned about a gaming addiction, talk to a medical professional. They can guide you to appropriate resources if necessary.