WHO Defined Game Addiction as Official Medical Condition
WHO Defined Game Addiction as Official Medical Condition
  • reporter Choi Eun-je
  • 승인 2019.09.05 19:19
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▲The WHO listed gaming disorder on the ICD-11 / Nassim All
▲The WHO listed gaming disorder on the ICD-11 / Nassim All


At the World Health Organization’s (WHO) World Health Assembly held on May 25, member states officially voted to adopt the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) that lists game addiction as a ‘gaming disorder.’

After the ICD-10 was adopted in 1990, the WHO has discovered that game addiction was one of the major causes of death and health threats in modern society, and game addiction was one of them. The WHO listed gaming disorder on the draft of the ICD-11, which was released on June 18, 2018. The WHO has classified gaming disorder as ‘Disorders due to addictive behaviors’ by giving a formal disease code ‘6C51.’ This is the same classification as a gambling disorder, which is coded ‘6C50.’ As the ICD-11 was adopted on May 25, the classification will come into effect from 2024 after the five years grace period.

The WHO reflected the persistence, frequency, and possibility of control of the gaming as the criteria for the diagnosis of gaming disorder to avoid the controversy that simply playing games cannot be judged as a disease. According to the ICD-11, gaming disorder manifests behavior like impaired control over gaming, giving gaming precedence over other life interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences. If someone shows this pattern of gaming behavior continuously for more than 12 months, we can diagnosis him as a gaming disorder.

As the ICD is the basis for identification of health trends and statistics globally and the international standard for reporting diseases and health conditions, member states of the WHO shall compile and publish statistics of coded diseases and may allocate the budget for prevention and treatment of disease. However, the ICD is just a recommendation, not a compulsion. The acceptance of a disorder in the ICD is a consideration which countries take into account when planning public health strategies and monitoring trends of disorders.

In Korea, there is a fierce conflict between government ministries that accept the ICD, ministries that oppose it, and the gaming industry. The Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW), the Ministry of Education (MOE), the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF) accepted WHO’s decision to making game addiction a disease. Especially, the MOHW started a process to define game addiction as a disease in Korea a day after the WHO’s decision. They planned to form a public-private consultative body involving the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST), the game industry, medical profession, and experts to discuss related issues. Despite the opposite of the MCST, they formed a consultative body and started the activity from July 23.

Since July 2018, the MCST has been working with Nexon, NCsoft and Netmarble, one of the largest game companies in Korea, to cope with giving game overindulgence a disease code. They conveyed their opinion disapproving listing game addiction as a disease to the WHO in January and May of this year. Also, the MCST took the lead to form the ‘Joint Committee on the Countermeasures Against the Introduction of Game Disorder Code’ including 89 gaming-related organizations and they started the formal activity from May 29. Wi Jong-hyun, chairperson of the committee said that ‘the WHO’s ICD is primarily to reference, not necessarily to follow and we will make in-depth preparations for how to respond legally.’

In this situation, it will be the year 2026, when deciding whether game addiction will be defined as a disease and affect our daily lives in Korea. Korea’s own disease classification system Korean Standard Disease Classification (KCD) is updated every five years and the Statistics Korea (KOSTAT), that revise KCD, announced that they will reflect ICD-11 to KCD update in 2025 and take effect from 2026. If game addiction is defined as a disease in Korea, can we get an exemption from military service on the ground of game addiction? The Ministry of National Defense will decide whether to reflect the new disease in exemption from military service. However, even if game addiction is classified as an official disease in Korea, it is not easy to get an exemption from military service only with a gaming disorder. According to the Military Manpower Administration, currently, disorders such as drug or alcohol addiction which is similar with gaming disorder does not mean that one is exempt from the military. A military doctor will decide whether he is suited for military service after considering his mental state and behavior.