Is gaming disorder a real thing?

18th July, 2019 • 4 min read

Is gaming disorder a real thing?

Digital and video games can be very entertaining; it’s easy for time to fly when playing them. But can playing online and offline games really turn into an addiction? According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), it can.

The WHO now recognises this problem as a mental health condition called ‘gaming disorder’, and has added this condition to the latest version of its medical reference book, the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11).

And even though another important medical reference resource, the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), does not name gaming disorder as an official condition, it does recognise internet gaming addiction as an area that needs more research.

Gaming is a common hobby today. Millions of people worldwide regularly spend time playing video and digital games.

So how can you tell if your gaming habits are healthy or fast becoming an addiction?

The signs of gaming disorder

The WHO defines gaming disorder as when a person:

  • has reduced or impaired control over their gaming habits
  • gives gaming increasing priority over other interests and daily activities
  • continues gaming despite experiencing negative consequences

The disorder isn’t necessarily reflected by how much time you spend playing games. Instead, the WHO reports that you may have a problem if your gaming habits significantly affect your job, education, and personal, family and social life, for at least 12 months.

Signs of gaming disorder can include:

  • constantly thinking about gaming
  • isolating yourself from others to make sure you can play games uninterrupted
  • using gaming to deal with negative feelings, such as guilt, anxiety or hopelessness
  • needing to spend more time playing games
  • lying to others about your gaming habits
  • feeling unable to cut down on or quit gaming

Who develops gaming disorders?

Contrary to popular opinion, while playing digital and online games is common, gaming disorder is not. Research published in the American Journal of Psychiatry suggests that less than 1% of the general population has a gaming disorder. The study’s authors also report that analyses of studies on gaming disorder suggest that gaming disorder is ‘less likely to be expressed by gamers than a gambling disorder is to be expressed by a gambler’.

Like all other addictions, there are no firm answers about what causes gaming disorder. However, certain triggers have been identified. For example, your risk of developing the condition increases with the amount of time you spend playing games. Gaming disorder is also more likely among impulsive people.

All types of games can encourage gaming disorder, but it's thought that large-scale, multiplayer online role-playing games are more likely to do so. This may be because these games involve ongoing stories that develop with every play. As such, players have more motivation to keep playing.

How is gaming addiction treated?

Treatment for gaming disorder usually aims to help the affected person to cut down, and then avoid gaming completely. This is because just a small amount of gaming can trigger old habits in someone with a history of gaming disorder.

Despite this clear goal, there's not a lot of strong evidence about the best way to treat gaming disorder. At present, a type of talking therapy called

cognitive behavioural therapy
is commonly used.

If you are worried about gaming disorder

Gaming disorder remains a relatively new area, which means that many answers are yet to be found. However, if you're worried about your gaming habits or those of someone else, speak to your doctor for advice.

You may also find support groups, such as

Action on Addiction
Stemming Teenage Mental Illness

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.