Back in May 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially voted to include video game addiction (formally known as “Gaming Disorder”) to its list of recognised illness, following its proposed inclusion back in June last year.
Just months after the divisive vote, German researchers now claim to have found a short-term treatment for addiction to both video games and the internet – a disorder that many are still unconvinced even exists, at least by the terms of the WHO’s definition.
According to WHO’s ICD-11 Gaming Disorder is described as “A pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior (‘digital gaming’ or ‘video-gaming’), which may be online (i.e., over the internet) or offline.”
It goes on to specify that the disorder may manifest itself through “impaired control over gaming”, increasingly putting video games ahead of other “life interests and activities”, and continuing to put in long play sessions despite obvious negative consequences in matters of “personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.”
In order to be diagnosed with the disorder, the patient would have to exhibit the above behaviour for a minimum of 12 months – though if “symptoms are severe”, a diagnosis could be reached quicker.
VGC reports that research conducted between 2012 to 2017 in four outpatient clinics in Germany and Austria utilized cognitive behaviour therapy instead of psychiatric drugs. This, researchers claim, resulted in a 70 percent remission rate for patients addicted to video games and the internet.
The research was conducted on 143 men randomly divided into two groups. 72 received the therapy, while the other 71 acted as the control group. The CBT was made up of 15 weekly group sessions, and eight fortnightly one-on-one sessions.
Kai W. Müller, one of the authors of the study, told VICE:
It is important to emphasise that it does not automatically mean you are addicted if you are keen on playing computer games. It is important to keep in mind that only a minority is developing an addictive behaviour towards gaming and other internet activities. On the same hand, it is equally important to take these patients seriously and to accept that they are suffering and in need of help. Anything else would be mere ignorance.
Müller goes on to stress that the methods described in the study are intended to change the patient’s relationship with video games, not erase it altogether. He said that the “major aim” was to enable them to control their behaviour, rather than take all screens away from them.
Given the study described the treatment as short-term, it remains to be seen just how successful it’ll be in the long-term. It’s also interesting to note that the study was only conducted on men.
When the WHO made its decision last month, various Entertainment Associations from across the globe, including the US, Canada, South Korea, Australia, and the UK have come together to criticise the move and implore that it consider more reviews and independent experts.
They wrote in a joint statement:
Gaming disorder is not based on sufficiently robust evidence to justify its inclusion in one of the WHO’s most important norm-setting tools. The consequences of today’s action could be far-reaching, unintended, and to the detriment of those in need of genuine help.
Regardless of these pleas, it seems the ICD-11 will officially go into effect on January 1, 2022. I imagine the above study is going to be the first of many, many attempts to “treat” video game addiction.
Ewan Moore is a journalist at UNILAD Gaming who still quite hasn’t gotten out of his mid 00’s emo phase. After graduating from the University of Portsmouth in 2015 with a BA in Journalism & Media Studies (thanks for asking), he went on to do some freelance words for various places, including Kotaku, Den of Geek, and TheSixthAxis, before landing a full time gig at UNILAD in 2016.