The South Korean government is finding itself at odds with the recent addition of “gaming disorder” into the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems this past week by the World Health Organization (WHO). Other organizations have also joined in speaking out about the move as well.
The definition of “gaming disorder” offered by the WHO is “a pattern of behavior characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences."
In South Korea, there was a mixed response to the classification by two different government organizations. Seoul’s Culture Ministry stated that the move by the WHO was a violation of their cultural freedom, meanwhile the Ministry of Welfare welcomed the classification.
Along with South Korea’s video game trade organization, others who joined in support of opposing the WHO were representatives from Europe, the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Brazil. Together, they issued a joint statement against the classification.
“There is significant debate among medical and professionals about today's WHO action. We are concerned they reached their conclusion without the consensus of the academic community. The consequences of today's action could be far-reaching, unintended, and to the detriment of those in need of genuine help."
Japan meanwhile has not made any comment on the matter, which is rather surprising given how prevalent gaming is in the culture there, as well as being the base of Sony’s operations for the PlayStation console. This lack of condemnation may signal agreement or support for the new classification.
It is difficult to evaluate the reactions of those who oppose the classification by the WHO because of potential conflicts of interest. South Korea for example is one of, if not the most dominant presence in the emerging world of esports. To classify gaming in this negative manner may overshadow the fact that the best players in the world spend far more time playing video games than a casual player.
Not only that, but the statement was also signed by representatives of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada (ESA), the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association from Australia and New Zealand, the Interactive Software Federation of Europe, and UK Interactive Entertainment. Those groups would prefer that the WHO not classify their definition as they have, and state that instead there should be encouragement of moderation and parental controls for games for those individuals who may over-indulge.
Their collective response is also generally unreliable, as the way the world views video gaming will affect the long-term profitability of their industry, so of course they will demand a toned-down classification from the WHO. It is however problematic that their suggestion to the most extreme cases is to encourage “moderation”, which does nothing for individuals who may be addicted to games exactly in the detrimental way define above. We encourage people not to over-indulge in alcohol, but that encouragement means nothing to someone who is afflicted with alcoholism and the additional mental issues that often come as a result.
This is no simple matter to reconcile. However, it feels as though the WHO is on the right track in their efforts and should not waiver in its intention. The recent backlash against aggressive sales of addictive loot box mechanics is another sign of problems within the gaming industry that are finally seeing a reckoning for practices that have gone on too long. Rather than reject the WHO findings, those who are directly vested in the gaming industry should consider it an ethical responsibility to see what the long-term implications of such behaviors are, and how to curtail them.