The paper “Chaos and confusion in DSM-5 diagnosis of Internet Gaming Disorder: Issues, concerns, and recommendations for clarity in the field” by Kuss, Griffiths, and Pontes (in press) critically examines the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for Internet gaming disorder (IGD) and addresses the issue of whether IGD should be reconceptualized as gaming disorder, regardless of whether video games are played online or offline. This commentary provides additional critical perspectives on the concept of IGD.
The focus of this commentary is on the addiction model on which the concept of IGD is based, the nature of the DSM-5 criteria for IGD, and the inclusion of withdrawal symptoms and tolerance as the diagnostic criteria for IGD.
The addiction framework on which the DSM-5 concept of IGD is based is not without problems and represents only one of multiple theoretical approaches to problematic gaming. The polythetic, non-hierarchical DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for IGD make the concept of IGD unacceptably heterogeneous. There is no support for maintaining withdrawal symptoms and tolerance as the diagnostic criteria for IGD without their substantial revision.
The addiction model of IGD is constraining and does not contribute to a better understanding of the various patterns of problematic gaming. The corresponding diagnostic criteria need a thorough overhaul, which should be based on a model of problematic gaming that can accommodate its disparate aspects.
Regulation of gaming is largely based on the perception of gaming-related harm. This perception varies from one country to another and does not necessarily correspond to the real gaming-related harm. It is argued that there is a crucial need to define and assess domains of this harm in order to introduce policies that regulate gaming. Such policies would ideally be targeted at individuals at risk for problematic gaming and would be based more on educational efforts than on restrictive measures. The role of gaming industry in the regulation of gaming would depend on the more precise estimates of gaming-related harm.
Despite the many benefits of technological advancements, problematic use of emerging technologies may lead to consumers experiencing harms. Substantial problems and behavioral addictions, such as gambling and gaming disorders, are recognized to be related to Internet-based technologies, including the myriad of new devices and platforms available. This review paper seeks to explore problematic risk-taking behaviors involving emerging technologies (e.g., online gambling and gaming, online sexual behaviors, and oversharing of personal information via social networking sites) that have the potential to lead to problematic outcomes for individuals.
Results and discussion
Previous research has focused on policy frameworks for responding to specific issues (e.g., online gambling), but a broader framework is needed to address issues as they emerge, given lags in governments and regulators responding to dynamically evolving technological environments. In this paper, key terms and issues involved are identified and discussed. We propose an initial framework for the relative roles and responsibilities of key stakeholder groups involved in addressing these issues (e.g., industry operators, governments and regulators, community groups, researchers, treatment providers, and individual consumers/end users).
Multidisciplinary collaboration can facilitate a comprehensive, unified response from all stakeholders that balances individual civil liberties with societal responsibilities and institutional duty of care.
Concerns about problematic gaming behaviors deserve our full attention. However, we claim that it is far from clear that these problems can or should be attributed to a new disorder. The empirical basis for a Gaming Disorder proposal, such as in the new ICD-11, suffers from fundamental issues. Our main concerns are the low quality of the research base, the fact that the current operationalization leans too heavily on substance use and gambling criteria, and the lack of consensus on symptomatology and assessment of problematic gaming. The act of formalizing this disorder, even as a proposal, has negative medical, scientific, public-health, societal, and human rights fallout that should be considered. Of particular concern are moral panics around the harm of video gaming. They might result in premature application of diagnosis in the medical community and the treatment of abundant false-positive cases, especially for children and adolescents. Second, research will be locked into a confirmatory approach, rather than an exploration of the boundaries of normal versus pathological. Third, the healthy majority of gamers will be affected negatively. We expect that the premature inclusion of Gaming Disorder as a diagnosis in ICD-11 will cause significant stigma to the millions of children who play video games as a part of a normal, healthy life. At this point, suggesting formal diagnoses and categories is premature: the ICD-11 proposal for Gaming Disorder should be removed to avoid a waste of public health resources as well as to avoid causing harm to healthy video gamers around the world.
We greatly appreciate the care and thought that is evident in the 10 commentaries that discuss our debate paper, the majority of which argued in favor of a formalized ICD-11 gaming disorder. We agree that there are some people whose play of video games is related to life problems. We believe that understanding this population and the nature and severity of the problems they experience should be a focus area for future research. However, moving from research construct to formal disorder requires a much stronger evidence base than we currently have. The burden of evidence and the clinical utility should be extremely high, because there is a genuine risk of abuse of diagnoses. We provide suggestions about the level of evidence that might be required: transparent and preregistered studies, a better demarcation of the subject area that includes a rationale for focusing on gaming particularly versus a more general behavioral addictions concept, the exploration of non-addiction approaches, and the unbiased exploration of clinical approaches that treat potentially underlying issues, such as depressive mood or social anxiety first. We acknowledge there could be benefits to formalizing gaming disorder, many of which were highlighted by colleagues in their commentaries, but we think they do not yet outweigh the wider societal and public health risks involved. Given the gravity of diagnostic classification and its wider societal impact, we urge our colleagues at the WHO to err on the side of caution for now and postpone the formalization.