An Official** Division 46 Statement on the WHO Proposal to Include Gaming Related Disorders in ICD-11

News Media, Public Education and Public Policy Committee
Committee Chair: Chris Ferguson, PhD

**Disclaimer: This statement is an official statement of The Society for Media Psychology and Technology, Division 46 of the American Psychological Association, and does not represent the position of American Psychological Association or any of its other Divisions or subunits.

Committee Members: Dana Klisinan, Jerri Lynn Hogg, June Wilson, Patrick Markey, Malte Elson, Jimmy Ivory, Deborah Linebarger, Mary Gregerson, & Shahbaz Siddiqui

Society of Media Psychology and Technology, Division 46, of the American Psychological Association expresses concern regarding the proposal by the World Health Organization to include game-related disorders (i.e., “gaming disorder” and “hazardous gaming”) as disorders in the forthcoming International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). We are concerned that the current research base is not sufficient for this disorder and that this disorder may be more a product of moral panic than good science.  Moral Panic Theory relates to social processes that tend to disparage certain elements of society including new technology, and which can result in pressure on scholars and scientific bodies to confirm preexisting social concerns about new technology (Cohen, 1972; Ben-Yahuda, 2009).

Research on what may loosely be called “video game addiction” has been ongoing for 30 years. Nonetheless, that research has not provided clarity on how to define video game addiction (VGA), what symptoms best diagnose it, how prevalent it is, or whether it truly exists as an independent disorder, or, when it occurs is merely symptomatic of other, underlying mental health diagnoses.  Some recent research suggests that the VGA construct lacks clinical utility, with those high in VGA no more likely to experience mental health or physical problems than those low in VGA (Przybylski, Weinstein, & Murayama, 2017).  Other research has suggested that VGA is unstable, with most of those experiencing high symptoms at one time point seeing them resolved several months later without treatment (Rothmund, Klimmt, & Gollwitzer, in press; Sharkow, Festl, & Quandt, 2014.) Still other research has suggested that symptoms of VGA arise from other mental health disorders, not uniquely from gaming (Ferguson & Ceranoglu, 2014) and this is more symptom than disorder.  Much of the concern has focused on the related “internet gaming disorder” concept proposed for the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM (e.g., Kuss, Griffiths, & Pontes, 2017; Quandt, 2017).  Although some scholars may support a VGA diagnosis (e.g., Griffiths, Kuss, Lopez-Fernandez, & Pontes, 2017), a large group of 28 scholars have written a piece specifically critical of the WHO’s proposal, a critique we find compelling (Aarseth et al., in press.) Further, although 30 years of research has been conducted, transparency for this research has been low and we would prefer to see a body of research developed using open science, preregistration and standardized measures prior to the reification of a diagnosis.

We note that, certainly, some individuals may overdo gaming. However, this is true for a wide range of activities, including sex, food, work, exercise, shopping, even dance (Maraz, Urbán, Griffiths, & Demetrovics, 2015).  We can discern no clear reason why video games are being singled out for a disorder rather than a general “behavioral addiction” category if the concern were truly regarding clinical access for those with problem behaviors.  Thus, an obsessive focus of the WHO on VGA would appear to us to be a response to moral panic (e.g., Cohen, 1972; Ben-Yahuda, 2009), one which in turn is likely to fuel more moral panic, including miscommunications that game playing can be compared to substance abuse.

We also express concern that a problematic diagnosis can cause significant harm by distracting clinicians from real problems and encourage treatments that remove coping mechanisms for stress without replacing them. Further, a problematic diagnosis may promulgate policy efforts that restrict free speech and minors’ rights, without appreciable positive impacts (Lee, Kim, & Hong, in press).  Thus, we call on the WHO to consider not implementing diagnoses related to gaming at this time.


Aarseth, E., Bean, A. M., Boonen, H., Colder-Carras, M., Coulson, M., Das, D., … Ferguson, C.J., et al. (in press). Scholars’ open debate paper on the World Health Organization ICD-11 gaming disorder proposal. Journal of Behavioral Addictions.

Ben-Yehuda, N. (2009). Moral panics–36 years on. British Journal of Criminology, 49, 1–3. doi:10.1093/bjc/azn076

Cohen, S. (1972). Folk devils and moral panics. London, England: MacGibbon and Kee.

Ferguson, C. J., & Ceranoglu, T. A. (2014).  Attention problems and pathological gaming: Resolving the ‘chicken and egg’ in a prospective analysis. Psychiatric Quarterly, 85,103-110.

Griffiths, M. D., Kuss, D. J., Lopez-Fernandez, O., & Pontes, H. M. (2017). Problematic gaming exists and is an example of disordered gaming. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 6(3), 296–301.

Kuss, D., Griffiths, M., & Pontes, H. (2017).  Chaos and confusion in DSM-5 diagnosis of Internet Gaming Disorder: Issues, concerns, and recommendations for clarity in the field. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 6, 103-109.

Lee, C., Kim, H., & Hong, A. (in press).  Ex-post evaluation of illegalizing juvenile online game after midnight: A case of shutdown policy in South Korea. Telematics and Informatics.

Maraz, A., Urbán, R., Griffiths, M. D., & Demetrovics Z. (2015). An empirical investigation of dance addiction. PloS ONE, 10(5): e0125988. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0125988.

Przybylski, A. K., Weinstein, N., & Murayama, K. (2017). Internet gaming disorder: Investigating the clinical relevance of a new phenomenon. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 174(3), 230-236. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2016.16020224

Quandt, T. (2017).  Stepping back to advance: Why IGD needs an intensified debate instead of a consensus Commentary on: Chaos and confusion in DSM-5 diagnosis of Internet Gaming Disorder: Issues, concerns, and recommendations for clarity in the field (Kuss et al.). Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 6, Retrieved from:

Rothmund, T., Klimmt, C., & Gollwitzer, M. (in press). Low temporal stability of excessive video game use in German adolescents. Journal of Media Psychology: Theories, Methods, and Applications, doi:10.1027/1864-1105/a000177

Scharkow, M., Festl, R., & Quandt, T. (2014). Longitudinal patterns of problematic computer game use among adolescents and adults—A 2 year panel study. Addiction, 109(11), 1910-1917. doi:10.1111/add.12662

2 thoughts on “An Official** Division 46 Statement on the WHO Proposal to Include Gaming Related Disorders in ICD-11

  1. Pingback: The Psychology of Video Games: Are Video Games Good or Bad For Players? - Celia Hodent

  2. Pingback: Gaming and Problem Gaming in the Age of COVID-19 | The Amplifier Magazine

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