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Gaming disorder is a thing now but will that create more problems?
Gamers interact with newly-announced games, including some of the 14 new titles coming to Xbox Game Pass, at Xbox E3 2018 Showcase in Los Angeles on Sunday, June 10, 2018. (Photo by Casey Rodgers/Invision for Microsoft/AP Images) - photo by Sara Israelsen-Hartley
Yes, it turns out that playing 13 consecutive hours of Fortnite may now be a diagnosable problem.

The World Health Organization added "gaming disorder" to the most recent version of the International Classification of Diseases its list of medical maladies released earlier this week, and the reaction has been swift and sharp.

Many parents, therapists and researchers applaud the move, which they say not only validates what theyve seen, but may also open the way for treatment. Other researchers and game advocates are pushing back against a stigmatizing diagnosis, which they say is based on poor research.

"By labeling a complex hobby as a disorder compared to other entertainment media which seem far more familiar and acceptable, we risk pathologising the wrong thing," wrote Jo Twist, CEO of the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment, in an article on

To earn a diagnosis, someone must be unable to control their gaming frequency, intensity and duration, be losing interest in other daily activities, and continue to play despite negative consequences for at least a year in most cases, according to WHO's classification.

Gaming disorder now joins gambling disorder in the category of "disorders due to addictive behaviors," that cause distress or interfere with "personal functions that develop as a result of repetitive rewarding behaviors" short of using drugs, according to the classification.

Among those who cheer the diagnosis is Kim DeVries, who told the New York Times she looked for professional help in vain two years ago for her adult son who had "failed out of college and was struggling to hold a job."

The now 24-year-old would spend up to 16 hours playing League of Legends until DeVries imposed a no-gaming-after 11 p.m. rule.

Like DeVries' son, a growing number of younger men are unemployed, spending large chunks of their days playing video games. In 2000, 8 percent of younger men, full-time students excluded, worked zero weeks in the last year. By 2016, it had risen to 15 percent and researchers from Princeton and the University of Chicago blamed computer gaming for some of it.

From 2004 to 2015, younger mens recreational computer time increased by 45 percent, despite their total leisure time increasingly by only 4 percent, according to the study.

"The paper further cites survey data showing that these men reported increased happiness overall despite their reduced circumstances, suggesting that advances in gaming are making imaginary worlds more enjoyable than the real one," wrote David Z. Morris for Fortune.

While experts admit that some people struggle with negative gaming behaviors, a group of scholars expressed their concerns in an open letter to the WHO last fall, calling the proposed addition "premature" and worried it would "cause significant stigma to the millions of children who play video games as a part of a normal, healthy life."

Critics also worry that a blanket diagnosis lumps all games together with "no understanding of the complexity and diversity of these digital worlds, which offer increasingly sophisticated stories, characters, competition, social connections, and fun," Twist wrote. "It also ignores potential underlying issues that may drive some people to seek solace in digital worlds."

Many gaming habits, may in fact, be coping strategies to deal with underlying psychological challenges, Lennart Nacke, director of the Human-Computer Interaction Games Group at the University of Waterloos Games Institute told Wired.

And if that's the case, someone might be better helped by getting treatment under a more "general diagnosis like depression or anxiety," and not a gaming-specific label, Michelle Colder Carras, a public health researcher at Johns Hopkins University told The Verge.

But Dr. Shekhar Saxena of the World Health Organization told NPR the diagnosis is really only for a small subset of people.

"Everybody who indulges in gaming from time to time doesn't have this disorder," he told NPR. "In fact, it's only a minority of people who game who will satisfy the strict criteria for gaming disorder in ICD-11."

Another influential diagnostic manual, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association, lists "Internet gaming disorder," but "only as a 'condition for further study' not a clinical diagnosis," writes Samit Sarkar, front page editor for Polygon.

"Even the WHO acknowledges that further study is needed, and intends for the classification of gaming disorder to spur additional research," wrote Sarkar. "In other words, there seems to be a difficult chicken-and-egg problem here: There isnt enough research on gaming disorder to define it as a diagnosis, but without health bodies defining it as a diagnosis, it may be less likely for researchers to study the phenomenon in the first place."