Singapore's Cybersports & Online Gaming Association speaks out about WHO’s gaming disorder label

As pundits from all over the world push back against the World Health Organization (WHO) decision to formally identify gaming addiction as a disease, an esports association here calls for a “nuanced understanding” of video games and its effects. 

National Youth Council-backed Singapore Cybersports & Online Gaming Association (SCOGA) sees a silver lining in WHO’s recent action. Speaking to AsiaOne, SCOGA Honorary Secretary Dennis Ooi believes that it could bring stakeholders in the gaming industry closer to a consensus about what game addiction truly looks like.

In the eleventh revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) last month, 194 members of the WHO unanimously voted “gaming disorder” to be officially considered an addictive behaviour disorder. In South Korea, where gaming brings in billions of dollars in revenue, game companies have loudly opposed the decision, calling it a direct breach of the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of the Child to rest and leisure, which includes playing and recreational activities appropriate to their age.

“SCOGA believes that, as with any other human activity (including work), there is a line between passion and addiction, where a small percentage of people take things to such extremes that the same results as described in ICD-11 could manifest,” noted Ooi. 

“Gaming disorder”, according to the WHO, is an impaired control over gaming regardless of negative consequences — like skipping school and forgoing hygiene. The disorder would also be assigned only after such destructive behaviour is evident for at least 12 months, or lesser if the symptoms are severe enough.

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On their end, SCOGA urges stakeholders to adopt a nuanced understanding of both the negative and positive impacts of gaming, “especially when gaming is practised in a disciplined and structured manner as part of a balanced lifestyle.'' 

Nevertheless, unscrupulous developers and companies behind aggressively monetised games should also take responsibility for amplifying addictive behaviour. After all, there’s nothing quite as capitalistically alluring as microtransactions.

Negative perceptions

“We have for many years engaged with thousands of gamers, through our cyber wellness programmes which include discussing signs and symptoms of addictive behaviours, as well as many community leaders, educators and parents through our various community initiatives, to help them better understand gaming,” stated Ooi. 

One of the more visible recent events includes the time when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sat in for a DOTA 2 basics class run by SCOGA’s Esports Academy. 

What Ooi is saying is that video games aren’t all as bad as mainstream society might perceive them to be — they’re also a vehicle to inculcate various values and career skills.

“We do so through structured programmes developed in a similar way as the national sports coaching framework, as well as offering industry-relevant programmes that help gamers acquire various technical and soft skills needed for the emerging career pathways in the future economy,” he explained.