A beta draft of the World Health Organization’s 2018 International Classification of Diseases includes “gaming disorder” in a list of recognized mental health conditions.

Video gaming – like other potentially addictive activities such as gambling, shopping and sex – has been the subject of debate among health experts and psychologists for more than a decade.

Some research has shown beneficial impacts of playing video games, such as improved cognitive skills and spatial skills in both children and adults.

A study recently published in PLOS ONE found that people ages 55 to 75 had increased volume in their hippocampus and cerebellum as a result of playing video games like Super Mario 64 on a regular basis for six months. The findings showed that the participants' short-term memory improved.

But other studies suggest excessive video game playing produces the same physical effects in an avid gamer as drugs do for addicts.  

Currently, the American Psychiatric Association does not classify gaming addiction as a disorder, but has noted it is listed as a “condition for further study.”

“Gaming disorder” is also not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). In fact, the only “non-substance-related” disorder that is recognized in the DSM is gambling, which was added in 2013.

Although still in draft form, the WHO’s 2018 International Classification of Diseases includes gaming disorder under the broader category of “disorders due to addictive behaviors.”

The WHO also specifically states three conditions that would classify an individual as suffering from gaming disorder. First, gaming disorder is characterized by a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior (either online or offline) that results in:

1. impaired control over the game (e.g., onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination, context)
2. increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities.
3. continuation of escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.

The report continues by noting, “The behavior pattern is of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning. The pattern of gaming behavior may be continuous or episodic and recurrent. The gaming behavior and other features are normally evident over a period of at least 12 months in order for a diagnosis to be assigned, although the required duration may be shortened if all diagnostic requirements are met and symptoms are severe.”

Recognizing gaming disorder as an actual addiction may help mental health professionals assist individuals who are struggling to get a hold of their gaming habits. But developing standard methods of differentiating between individuals who spend an excessive amount of time playing video games between those that play to the point of it becoming problematic in their everyday life still remains a challenge.

Other devices that can be addicting, such as smartphones, are not included in the draft.

According to the Entertainment Software Association’s (ESA) 2017 Sales, Demographic and Usage Data Report, 65 percent of American households are home to someone who plays video games regularly.

Seventy-one percent of parents say video games positively impact their child’s life, according to the report.