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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Oct. 23)

Editorials from Korean Dailies 07:11 October 23, 2018

Game addiction
WHO's disease classification plan to stir heated debate

The World Health Organization (WHO) is planning to classify "gaming disorder," often referred to as computer game addiction, as a disease in its new global medical coding guidelines. If the WHO's decision-making body, the World Health Assembly, endorses the plan next May, game addiction will be included in the International Classification of Diseases.

Game addiction has already emerged as a serious health and social problem in Korea. Yet the WHO move is controversial. The bone of contention is whether video games are as harmful a disease as tobacco and alcohol addiction. This matter is likely to touch off a heated debate in Korea as the Ministry of Health and Welfare said it will accept the WHO decision. It could spark a backlash from game developers and conflicts between different government ministries.

The WHO plan, if adopted, is expected to bring strict regulations to the game industry and thereby dampen its business prospects. Currently operators of casinos, horse racing and lotteries are required to contribute 0.35 percent of their net sales to the prevention and treatment of addiction. If game addiction is classed as a disease, developers and operators of video and online games will be obliged to make a similar contribution.

The problem is that the WHO's planned classification has yet to be verified scientifically. The medical community also has yet to recognize game addiction as a disease due to a lack of medical evidence.

Needless to say, the World Health Assembly should make its final decision based on the verification of scientific evidence. So, it is dangerous for the health ministry to accept the WHO's stance without sufficient examination and discussion with related authorities and industries.

The government needs to take a careful approach before categorizing game addiction as a disease, namely a mental disorder, because it will bring a huge burden not only to the national health insurance system, but also the game industry.

In particular, the authorities should understand that any hasty conclusion that game addiction is a disease may undermine the local game industry, one of the driving forces for the global spread of hallyu, or the Korean wave. It should not overlook the fact that the industry has been contributing to economic growth.

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