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WHO Recognizes Gaming Disorder As A Mental Health Condition


The World Health Organization has added gaming disorders, as in video gaming, to addictive disorders. But this idea of technology addiction is still controversial, as Anya Kamenetz reports.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Oh, you can raid him now.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Yeah, I'm waiting. Don't worry. Don't worry.


ANYA KAMENETZ, BYLINE: That's a clip giving an idea of the thrills of Fortnite, one of the most popular video games right now. And video games are really popular. All told, from casual mobile games to immersive multiplayer worlds, the industry brought in $36 billion last year with players from two-thirds of American households, according to the Entertainment Software Association. But a small percentage of people, particularly young men, seem to have a problem with gaming getting out of control. Sleep, school, work and relationships all fall by the wayside.

The International Classification of Diseases is an official publication of the U.N.'s health agency. It is used by doctors around the world to identify health trends and statistics. The newest addition for the first time includes gaming disorder, which is classified similarly to a gambling addiction. The signs include playing video games obsessively and not being able to stop despite significant negative life consequences. Mental health professionals, like Nicholas Kardaras, the author of "Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids," talk about patients, overwhelmingly young men, who get so wrapped up in a multi-hour gaming binge that they won't even get up to use the bathroom.

Some clinicians and families hope that with more official recognition of gaming disorder will come easier access to help, like insurance coverage and treatment. And this all comes at a time of a broader concern that many people are using technology, including smartphones, more than is optimal for their health. But the move is still controversial. The psychiatric profession in the United States does not yet officially recognize internet or video game addiction as stand-alone disorders - listing them instead as conditions for further study. In a video about the new classification, Dr. Shekhar Saxena of the World Health Organization took pains to make clear that video games are a harmless pastime for most young people.


SHEKHAR SAXENA: Everybody who indulges in gaming from time to time doesn't have this disorder. In fact, it's only a minority of people who game who will satisfy the strict criteria for gaming disorder in ICD-11.

KAMENETZ: Complicating the picture further, clinicians say those who show problems with video games often have a co-occurring condition, such as depression, anxiety, ADHD or being on the autism spectrum. Twelve-step programs, like Alcoholics or Gamblers Anonymous, are undeveloped for video gamers. And the treatments on offer, like wilderness-based detox programs, can cost thousands of dollars and are unproven. Anya Kamenetz, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anya Kamenetz is an education correspondent at NPR. She joined NPR in 2014, working as part of a new initiative to coordinate on-air and online coverage of learning. Since then the NPR Ed team has won a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for Innovation, and a 2015 National Award for Education Reporting for the multimedia national collaboration, the Grad Rates project.