Video game industry asks WHO to reconsider after 'gaming disorder' classified as disease

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Top global video game industry leaders, including a trade group that includes heavyweights such as Electronic Arts and “Fortnite” maker Epic Games, called on the World Health Organization to reconsider its decision to classify “gaming disorder” as a disease.

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In the latest edition of its International Classification of Diseases, the WHO identified gaming disorder alongside compulsive gambling as a “disorder due to addictive behaviors.” According to its updated guidance, individuals who show signs of gaming disorder over a period of roughly 12 months, such as extensive gaming despite negative personal consequences, can be diagnosed with the disease.

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The video game industry has widely opposed the WHO’s efforts, arguing that its classification of gaming disorder lacks sufficient evidence. The U.S.-based Entertainment Software Association (ESA) and similar trade groups from Europe, South Korea and other locales, criticized the WHO’s decision.

“The WHO is an esteemed organization and its guidance needs to be based on regular, inclusive, and transparent reviews backed by independent experts. ‘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 groups said in a joint statement.

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The WHO’s decision comes at a time of unprecedented popularity for the video game industry, where games such as “Fortnite” attract tens of millions of players each month. Overall video game revenue rose 18 percent to a record $43.8 billion in 2018, according to statistics released by the ESA and NPD Group.

As players flock to gaming platforms, industry leaders have attracted renewed scrutiny. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) introduced a bill earlier this month that seeks to ban the sale of so-called “loot boxes” and pay-to-win micro-transactions from games marketed toward minors, a broad definition that would likely apply to most video games. The bill has drawn bipartisan support.

"Only the addiction economy could produce a business model that relies on placing a casino in the hands of every child in America with the goal of getting them desperately hooked," Hawley said at the time. "I'm proud to introduce this landmark, bipartisan legislation to end to [sic] these exploitative practices."

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The WHO’s latest action escalates an ongoing dispute with the video game industry. The ESA ripped the organization when it first announced its intent to classify obsessive gaming as a disorder in 2018, arguing that it “recklessly trivializes real mental health issues like depression and social anxiety disorder.”

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