AMA to Vote on Formal Classification of Video Game Addiction

Is addiction to virtual worlds a reality? The American Medical Association will have to decide this month.

A 10-page document produced by the AMA's Council on Science and Public Health suggests that video game addiction leads to "social dysfunction/disruption," and recommends that the disorder be formally classified in the upcoming edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The AMA's House of Delegates will vote on the proposal later this month, with the final say going to the American Psychiatric Association.

The document presents an even-handed examination of the subject, acknowledging that many studies claiming to provide a link between violent video games and aggressive behaviors are inconclusive. The council also believes that video games can prove to be a healthy experience in many circumstances. "As with most other forms of media, video games do have a potentially positive role, especially in the health care and health education sectors," reads the report.

However, the thrust of the paper focuses on the potential for harmful addiction to video games, with MMORPGs unsurprisingly receiving particular attention. "The DSM-IV disorder most similar to the pattern of behaviors observed with overuse of video games is pathological gambling," the document continues. "Although video game overuse can be associated with any type of video game, it is most commonly seen among MMORPG players, who represent approximately 9% of gamers... Current theory is that these individuals achieve more control of their social relationships and more success in social relationships in the virtual reality realm than in real relationships."

The paper was presented by the chair of the council, Mohamed K. Khan. Dr. Khan spoke with the Wall Street Journal on the medical importance of DSM classification. "Once you begin to classify the patients, you can do better research into the disease. You can tailor therapies... It can affect reimbursement because insurers will recognize it as a disorder," he said.