What is a video game disorder?

In 2018, the World Health Organisation (WHO) classified a video game disorder in their International Classification of Diseases. The ICD-11 is a list of illnesses and medical conditions which health professionals use to make diagnoses and plan treatments. 

According to this list, people with gaming problems have difficulties controlling the amount of time they spend playing video games. They also prioritise games over other activities and experience negative effects on their behaviour in these video games.

The WHO decided to classify this condition after reviewing an investigation and consulting with experts.

According to WHO’s definition, someone suffering with a video game disorder will show the following characteristics during at least 12 months:

  • Lack of control over gaming habits.

  • Prioritising video games over other interests and activities.

  • Continues playing despite negative consequences.

According to some investigations, addiction to video games can be linked to other mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression or stress.

People who remain physically inactive during prolonged periods due to video games can also have a higher risk of obesity, trouble sleeping and other health problems.


There are many similarities between addiction to video games and other addictions. People with the disorder spend hours playing regularly, having a strong emotional link to this behaviour and, as a result, can have fewer social connections.

Just like with other addictions, the disorder can have a negative impact on family life, relationships and work or studies. This can lead to frustration with those who criticise video games or can cause a feeling of guilt.

What does this mean for gamers?

There is no doubt that some behaviour linked to video games is problematic. Playing excessively has even led to death in some cases. But the majority of people who play video games, whether on consoles or computers, don’t need to worry. 

According to a 2017 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, the majority of people who play video games don’t show negative symptoms and don’t fulfil the criteria for video game disorder. Researchers believe that only 0.3% to 1% of people are likely to be diagnosed with the disorder.

Some experts believe that playing video games can offer some benefits, particularly for children. Numerous studies suggest that video games can have positive effects on social and cognitive abilities among youngsters.

Although video game disorders are not very widespread, we should be conscious of the amount of time that we spend playing. We must also control the effect that games have on our other activities, our physical and mental health and our relationships with others.

Sometimes, playing for too long can hide other problems, such as depression or anxiety. The search for help for the root cause can help to put an end to an excessive dependence on video games.

Reference: Przybylski, A., K., Weinstein, N. and Murayama, K. (2017)

Internet gaming disorder: investigating the clinical relevance of a new phenomenon. American Journal of Psychiatry, 174 (3). pp. 230­236. ISSN 0002­953X doi:

https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2016.16020224 Available at http://centaur.reading.ac.uk/66802/


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