Reactions to “Gaming Disorder” Classification

January 24, 2018

ICS faculty provide healthy outlook for gaming despite the World Health Organization’s plan to classify “gaming disorder” as a mental health condition.

After it was reported that the World Health Organization plans to add “gaming disorder” to its International Classification of Diseases (as noted in the beta draft ICD-11), the Higher Education Video Game Alliance (HEVGA) quickly came out with a statement of opposition. HEVGA voiced concerns about the classification “stigmatizing” players and “warping” and “biasing” continued research. It also noted that it found “very little scholarly evidence to support the classification as proposed.”

So should gamers and gaming researchers be concerned about this new classification?

No Need for Parent Anxiety

Informatics Professor Mimi Ito says that “we do need to flag unhealthy engagement with an activity that is otherwise positive, but we should not single out games as inherently problematic.” Ito, who is also Director of the Connected Learning Lab, stresses that gaming and play are positive activities, and there are “risks to fanning a climate of fear” when research has shown that “boys who don’t play games are more likely to suffer from social isolation.”

Furthermore, she says that “parent anxiety over gaming is often the source of tension and discord in the family. Parents and players should be alert to red flags, but not overreact and unintentionally create new problems.”

No Causal Link

Informatics Professor Katie Salen Tekinbaş is similarly in general agreement with HEVGA, but she’s not as concerned about implications of the classification because “their definition doesn’t make a causal link between games and addiction — it simply states that for some individuals, this condition exists. There is no definitive research that shows a link between gaming and addiction.”

Senior Research Scientist Walt Scacchi agrees, saying that “anytime you have 2 billion people doing anything, you’re going to include people who have a wide range of mental health, behavior or obsessive conditions.” He further explains that “association is not causation.” According to Scacchi, “we have other problems. We have problems in games around gender hostility and exclusion, which are much more pressing issues that merit attention.”

Focus on Benefits and Inclusion

Fortunately, Ito, Salen Tekinbaş, Scacchi and other ICS researchers are already working to create a more diverse and inclusive environment through work at the Connected Learning Lab and other initiatives. For example, Assistant Professor Bonnie Ruberg, along with Ph.D. student Amanda Cullen, recently received an Inclusive Excellence Spirit Award to help diversify esports by developing resources for women, LGBTQ folks and people of color who livestream.

A student gamer inside the UCI Esports Arena.

In addition, Informatics Professor and former HEVGA President Constance Steinkuehler has done extensive work on the positive effects of gaming. She has a well thought-out response to those who fear video games are harming their children, and she’s working with her colleagues to support the Orange County High School Esports League. Launched in cooperation with the the Samueli Foundation and UCI’s Esports Arena, the league aims to connect high school students to STEM domains through their interest in esports.

Clearly, despite the new diagnosis, there seems to be a generally healthy outlook for gaming.

— Shani Murray