Spending too much time playing video games is an addiction that should treated by doctors, according to the World Health Organisation.
Parents have long worried about how long their children sit in front of a screen and how games may impact their behaviour.
Now doctors at the WHO have confirmed their worst nightmare – playing video games can be an addiction like drugs, drinking or gambling and may require intervention to treat the condition as a mental health disorder.
Video gaming is now included in the WHO International Classification of Diseases for the first time.
The database is regarded as the leading reference of the world’s recognised and diagnosable diseases and describes video gaming as “a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour that becomes so extensive it takes precedence over other life interests”.
Gaming can be a mental health disorder
Shekhar Saxena, the WHO expert on mental health and substance abuse, said international research revealed in some cases, gamers play for up to 20 hours a day, deprive themselves of sleep and food, while missing work or school.
Even though video gaming can be a serious condition for some people, he said, the activity is only an addiction for a small number.
Industry lobby group the Video Games Coalition, spoke out against the WHO diagnosis.
A spokesman told news site Reuters that their products were “enjoyed safely and sensibly by more than 2 billion people worldwide” across all kinds of genres, devices and platforms.
Bible for doctors and researchers
He added that the “educational, therapeutic, and recreational value” of games was widely recognised and urged the WHO to reconsider.
The International Classification of Diseases says for gaming disorder to be diagnosed, “the behaviour pattern must be of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months.”
ICD has been a well-respected repository of medical data since 1948.
Health services and insurers worldwide base their policies and decisions on what the experts say about the 55,000 diseases and conditions indexed on the database.
Besides classifying video gaming as a mental health issue, the ICD also reclassifies some sexual gender issues and includes a new section on traditional medicines.