WHO classifies obsession with video games as ‘mental illness’

Tuesday January 2 2018

 video games

Mother and Daughter play video games. Obsession with video games has now been classified as a mental disorder by the World Health Organisation. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

More by this Author

Are you constantly playing video games and whenever you step away from this, your fingers are itching to get back? You could have a mental disorder.

Obsession with video games has now been classified as a mental disorder by the World Health Organisation.

According to a draft of WHO’s upcoming 11th International Compendium of Diseases (ICD), playing video games obsessively might lead to a diagnosis of a mental health disorder in 2018.

WHO includes “gaming disorder” in its list of mental health conditions, making it an official diagnosis that can be used by doctors and other health specialists. Kenyan doctors could soon be diagnosing the condition in a country boasting of a growing youthful population with a rapidly advancing digital culture that includes mobile phone gaming.

It is the first time that the list has included an entry on gaming, placing it in the same category as disorders related to drugs, alcohol and gambling.


The UN body defines gaming disorder as a “persistent or recurrent behaviour pattern of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning”.

WHO says the disorder is characterised by “impaired control” with increasing priority given to gaming.

“Gaming disorder is characterised by a pattern of persistent or recurrent digital or video gaming behaviour which may be online or offline, manifested by impaired control over gaming onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination and context. It may also be displayed by increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities. The disorder is also characterised by continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences,” says the document.


WHO says the disorder needs at least six months of observed symptoms before medical professionals can make a diagnosis.

“Video game playing, either online or offline, must be normally evident over a period of at least 12 months for this diagnosis to be made, according to the beta draft guidance. However, if symptoms are severe and all requirements are met, healthcare professionals may include people who have been playing for shorter periods of time,” the draft reads.

WHO media spokesman Gregory Hartl said the new classification on gaming disorder “includes only a clinical description and not prevention and treatment options”.


WHO’s comprehensive list is intended to make it easier for scientists to share and compare health information between hospitals, regions and countries.

It also enables healthcare workers to compare data in the same location over different time periods. Additionally, public health experts use the list to track the number of deaths and diseases.

The International Compendium of Diseases is the WHO’s version of the American Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association which only includes mental disorders. In contrast to DSM, ICD lists both mental and physical disorders.