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06/19/2019 HYU News > General


Game Addiction Registered as Official Disease by World Health Organization

Professor Roh Sung-won participating in the TV show, 100-minute Debate


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The online game League of Legends (LOL) has become the world's most played game in history. Many competitions around the globe have been hosted thanks to great interest from the public, and numerous celebrated professional gamers have emerged. With such an impact, the overall current game industry is more prosperous than ever before. However, global society has constantly expressed anxiety over game addiction that can very possibly engender harmful effects on people’s daily lives. Regarding the negative social impact which game addiction could have on people, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently officially appointed game addiction as a mental disease. A Korean TV show 100-minute Debate brought up this issue as a topic which gained notable attention from the public. Professor Roh Sung-won (Department of Psychiatry) participated as a debater advocating the WHO’s decision, representing The Korean Academy of Addiction Psychiatry.
Professor Roh Sung-won (Department of Psychiatry, second from right) recently participated in a Korean TV show, 100-minute Debate as a debater, discussing the reasons for agreement with considering game addiction as an official mental disease.
(Photo courtesy of MBC)

On May 15th of 2019, the members of the WHO unanimously agreed upon officially designating game addiction as a mental disease; therefore, it has been registered as a code in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). The ICD is the reference standard that provide doctors with objective classifications when diagnosing their patients. It maintains a significant importance since countries all over the world apply their medical insurance fees based upon these standards. Three conditions should be satisfied to be listed in the ICD. The first is to be able to provide cerebral scientific evidence. The second is to verify the natural course of the disease. Last is whether the disease causes personal health issues and has harmful social consequences. Game addiction satisfied all three conditions, since it showed similar structural and functional disorders of the brain as other addictions, and it could not be naturally mitigated. 
According to the WHO, three standards are applied when determining whether or not a person is addicted to games: whether the person possesses the ability to control the amount of time he or she plays; whether playing games is a priority aside from studying, personal relationships, and other activities; and whether the person continues to play games even when problems arise from doing so. If these three factors persist for more than 12 months, the person can be diagnosed as a game addict. In fact, there are often critical cases of, for example, young parents neglecting and starving their children because of intensive time spent on playing games and an adult being rushed to the emergency room as he passed out after playing games for four days straight. Roh notes, “Considering such cases, effective and proper treatment based on objective standards are deemed essential, which proves the necessity of registering game addiction in the ICD.”
Roh insists that in order to tackle the deteriorating problems derived from game addiction, effective treatments are necessary, and this is why registration of game addiction in the ICD is justified.

Regarding imposing the costs of game addiction onto game corporations, Roh takes a careful stance as it is a sensitive manner. Nonetheless, he introduces several exemplary companies that are making social contributions. In particular, gambling, liquor, and cigarette companies are promoting social contributions as they are all aware that their products can possibly cause addiction. In addition to donating to the public, they invest in remedial facilities and research funding for effective treatments for addiction. Roh believes, “The more social-contributing activities are encouraged by companies like them, the more they will gain credibility with the public.”
Opponents of the WHO's decision worry that such an official enrollment in the ICD will discourage and annihilate the currently blooming game industry. In fact, some further criticized that The American Academy of Psychiatry appointed the Internet gaming disorder as a candidate disease, so it should not be regarded as an official disorder yet. However, Roh asserts, “Naming it a candidate disease does not mean that it is still in the phase of a possible disorder. It is just a pre-stage before being officially registered; it is still considered an actual disease that requires further research.” In an attempt to address game addiction problems, numerous research projects and efforts are being made. In fact, there is a camp with zero access to the Internet, specific drug treatments, and counseling programs with various experts.
Gambling, liquor, and cigarette companies are well-aware that their products that have possibility of engendering addiction; thus, they actively devote themselves to social contribution.

The government conducts a pan-national survey every five years, and the result shows that 25 percent of the population experiences at least one mental disorder in a lifetime. This means that everyone is vulnerable to such a disease. If people are going through mental hardships, they can simply go to the doctor and receive suitable treatment. “It’s sad that people are hesitant to say they have mental issues. I hope those patients become unafraid to tell their status, and the official registration works as a stepping stone for a healthier world,” concluded Roh.

Kim Min-jae
Photos by Kim Joo-eun
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