What the WHO gets wrong about video games and culture

This week, more than 25,000 video game insiders and fans are gathering at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. While it may be surprising to some, video games are a positive driving force of modern culture.

Ongoing innovation by the video game industry has resulted in breakthrough technologies and explosive growth. In fact, last year sales reached a record-breaking $43.4 billion in the United States, up 18 percent from 2017. Thanks to immersive technologies, engaging content, and the ability to play with others, today’s video-game-playing population is more connected than ever before. Our audiences span every demographic across the globe, and research shows that intergenerational game play is growing.

Unlike Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey who recently said that new technologies can divide people, we at the Entertainment Software Association, which represents the U.S. video game industry, see the world differently. More than half of players say video games help them connect with their friends, and nearly half say it helps their families spend more time together. Parents and grandparents are also playing more with their children and grandchildren, respectively.

What the WHO gets wrong

It is clear that video games bring people together and have a positive impact on our daily lives. That is why it is so alarming that the World Health Organization (WHO) has proposed the addition of “gaming disorder” to its global disease classification handbook. This proposal sets a harmful precedent by stigmatizing people who enjoy playing video games and downplaying the real consequences of other recognized mental health disorders.

Even more problematic, medical research does not support the creation of this classification. In fact, the WHO’s proposal disregards the positions taken by the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association, all of which have declined to label any amount of video game play as a “disorder.”

None of this should suggest that those struggling with mental health issues, compulsive disorders, or other challenges should not seek the treatment they need. However, there is no medical consensus that the type of video game play described by the WHO is an underlying cause of mental illness, as opposed to a symptom of a more pressing issue.

Interestingly, researchers on both sides of the issue agree that video games are fun, educational and increasingly therapeutic. Video games have become a vital learning tool for children struggling with dyslexia and other learning challenges and are being used to help treat Alzheimer’s patients. Teen girls who play video games are three times more likely to pursue a STEM degree. Through playing video games, college students can improve their communication, adaptability and resourcefulness, which are essential skills needed to earn a college degree.


At the Entertainment Software Association, we stand with video game innovators, creators and artists who care about players. We encourage responsible video game playing through password-protected parental controls, a robust rating system, and family discussion guides, which are just three of the many ways our industry has worked to promote the healthy enjoyment of video games.

Stanley Pierre-Louis serves as acting CEO and general counsel of ESA.