The World Health Organization has classified gaming addiction as a disease like drug or alcohol addiction. The decision is expected to have a great impact on the Korean gaming industry and efforts to prevent gaming addiction.
The WHO cited as symptoms of gaming addiction: impaired control over gaming, increased priority given to gaming and continuation or escalation of gaming despite negative consequences. It suggested that abnormal gaming behavior should be evident over a period of at least 12 months for a diagnosis to be assigned.
Online video games do not necessarily have negative effects. They can help reduce stress and sharpen certain cognitive abilities, such as reaction speed. But problems arise when gamers lose self-control and become addicted. Addicted players suffer from health problems due to deprivation of sleep and physical activity, isolation from society, poor performance at school or work, and interpersonal conflicts, among others.
Furthermore, gaming addiction has sometimes caused serious social problems. In 2010, a 15-year-old boy killed his mother for scolding him for his excessive gaming habit and then killed himself. The same year, a local court sentenced a game-addicted couple to two years in prison for neglecting their baby, who starved to death. The parents were preoccupied with raising a virtual daughter in a multiplayer role-playing game.
The WHO’s decision is positive in that it opens the way for public health authorities to address gaming addition systematically and effectively.
The South Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare reportedly plans to recognize gaming addiction as an illness in 2025, when it is set to revise the Korean Classification of Diseases.
The ministry will then be able to compile and disclose related statistics and receive a budget for the prevention and treatment of gaming addiction.
On the other hand, the WHO’s decision raises concerns that it will dampen Korea’s gaming industry, which is the world’s fourth-largest with an annual revenue of about 14 trillion won ($11.8 billion).
The gaming industry and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, which oversees the industry, oppose the classification of gaming addiction as an illness.
These concerns are understandable, but the WHO’s decision must not be perceived only as a threat. The organization did not equate gaming to a disease. Problems do not lie in gaming but in overindulgence and addiction.
Without doubt, the gaming industry has provided new entertainment, but it cannot deny that gaming addiction has taken hold of some users as well.
The gaming industry needs to take the WHO’s decision as an opportunity to foster a healthy gaming culture. Some countries ban imports of highly addictive and violent games. Now is the time for the industry to seek changes.
The government must address not only the content of games but also the environment conducive to gaming addiction, rather than restricting the act of playing games itself.
Gaming addiction stems largely from a wide array of social and psychological factors, such as family environment and excessive stress. Preventive education must be strengthened, too.
First of all, opposing opinions within the government must be unified.
With the WHO’s decision, the recognition of gaming addiction as a disorder has become inevitable. The Health Ministry plans to form a consultative body next month to work out guidelines on gaming addiction, such as the concept and detailed diagnosis criteria.
The authorities have about six years before they officially classify it as an illness. This is sufficient time to gather opinions and draw up a well-thought-out plan to tackle gaming addiction.
It may be wise for the gaming industry to stop questioning the addictiveness of gaming, acknowledge the reality and try to figure out ways to minimize social costs.
If detailed criteria for diagnosis are worked out and proper treatment is provided, controversy and concerns over the side effects of digital gaming could vanish, and the gaming industry could be boosted instead.