Five-step Guide for Media and Journalists Who Write about Gaming Disorder
Choose words carefully. “Game addiction” isn’t a valid term. The official label by the WHO in the ICD-11 (2022) is “gaming disorder”, classified under disorders due to addictive behaviors. The APA in the DSM-5 uses “internet gaming disorder”, which isn’t in clinical use. Some countries have standardized other terms for local use.
a. If you’re not writing in English, check local translations.
b. Not all countries use the ICD-11 nor recognize gaming disorder. Find a local expert who can tell you about local diagnostic practice.
Gaming disorder is debated. There has been a scientific debate over gaming disorder (under different labels) since the 1980s.
a. Roughly half of the experts support including gaming disorder in clinical practice. It remains a matter of opinion; there’s still no good evidence for or against.
b. Some can benefit from services enabled by gaming disorder diagnosis, others don't. It’s impossible to say what’s the net outcome yet.
Does gaming disorder exist? Gaming disorder doesn’t “exist” but it's a term that has been taken into clinical use because some of the experts believe it’s useful in practice.
a. There’s no, and never will be, objective methods to identify gaming disorder. Like any mental disorder, gaming disorder is diagnosed subjectively by clinical experts via interview.
b. Gaming disorder is in the ICD-11, defined by selected criteria. It’s possible that, in the future, the criteria change and/or gaming disorder is removed from the ICD-11.
Not all problems are disorders. Most people who have problems related to gaming don’t meet gaming disorder criteria. Many common problems, like spending too much money on gaming, aren’t even part of the gaming disorder diagnosis.
a. Few of those who experience problems qualify for gaming disorder diagnosis. It’s ok to speak of “gaming-related problems” if the reference isn’t clear.
b. One doesn’t need a diagnosis to seek help for (any) problems. Many people benefit from various support services even though they have no diagnoses.
Science is in the beginning. There’s little consensus among researchers about gaming disorder. However, everyone agrees that some people have gaming-related problems.
a. There are no reliable prevalence rates about gaming disoder yet. In principle, none of the popular measures have been clinically validated, and there's no good population-level diagnostic data yet.
b. Among the few consensus points is that gaming is commonly used for coping with anxiety, depression, and other problems. Causality hasn’t been established.
Many of the above points can be adapted to discussions about internet, smartphone, and social media use. Note, however, that neither of those have formal clinical status. Although some people have problems with overusing the internet, smartphones, and social media, these problems aren’t “addictions” and shouldn’t be referred to as such.