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Japanese Gaming Nation Faces Addiction Issues

Japan has long been associated with gaming, from Super Mario to Final Fantasy, but some experts and parents worry that a growing addiction problem is going untreated.
While close-by countries like China and South Korea have recently implemented severe limitations on teenage gaming — with varying degrees of success — some Japanese families believe they are being left to handle the issue on their own.

A group gets together once a month in Tokyo to share experiences and discuss how to deal with their kids’ gaming tendencies.

Another father confides that their child has been attending a rehab day camp as he says, “My only consolation is that he has been fulfilling his pledge to stay offline overnight.”

Sakiko Kuroda, the organization’s founder, claims that such restrictions have caused many youngsters in Japan to play video games for longer and that they now begin doing so in elementary school.

There is “a lack of action by the government and the gaming industry,” according to Kuroda, who founded the group in 2019 as an unofficial meet-up. Many parents are unsure of how to handle the problem.

People travel from all across the nation to participate in this type of self-help event, which is uncommon in Japan.

According to the World Health Organization, “gaming disorder” is a behavior that lasts at least a year and causes “substantial damage” in areas like relationships, education, or employment.

It is difficult to quantify the issue because gaming can overlap with other online activities like social media use, but anecdotal data from doctors suggests more Japanese families are concerned — especially in light of the pandemic.

The phrase “Playing all night”

According to a survey conducted by the education ministry in April, children between the ages of six and twelve now play video games for an average of 17% of their waking hours, up from 9% in 2017. Children between the ages of 12 and 15 also saw a similar increase.
Mia Itoshiro, who works with a company that offers seminars on combating gaming addiction, said that games contain cunning methods to entice players to keep playing, such as continuously updated apps and virtual currency.

Parents are coming to us more often to say, “My kids can’t go to school because they’re exhausted from playing all night,”

In November, China declared that it had “solved” the problem of youth gaming addiction by limiting the amount of time kids can spend playing online games to just three hours per week. This restriction is enforced using facial recognition software and ID registration.
While this was going on, South Korea this year lifted a ten-year ban on minors under 16 playing PC-based internet games between the hours of midnight and six in the morning, which the local media had decried as antiquated and ineffective.

Similar regulations have never existed in Japan, and even a hotly contested local ordinance from 2020 that forbade children under 18 from playing for more than an hour on weekdays lacked an enforcement mechanism.

Parents and professionals agree that additional issues, such as bullying or stress associated to childhood, might drive children’s gaming to become obsessional.
A 13-year-old girl’s mother told AFP that her daughter used video games as a “lifeline” while she was having academic difficulties.

The mother’s then-10-year-old daughter said, “If you deprive me of this, I’d want to die,” when she attempted to take the girl’s tablet.

The mother said, “I was horrified to hear her utter anything like that.

Others who have developed a gaming addiction claim that it saved them during difficult times.

– Fundamental issues

As a victim of bullying in middle school, social worker Takahisa Masuda, now 46, started playing video games as an escape. He now believes that this decision saved his life.

Masuda told AFP, “I had considered killing myself, but I wanted to complete Dragon Quest.

By the time he had, he felt ready to face his tormentors, so he decided to devote himself to his studies, achieving his dream of working in the video game industry in the process.
Susumu Higuchi, a physician and the director of the Kurihama Medical and Addiction Center, provides children counseling instead of removing gadgets or banning gaming because parents are frequently disposed to do so in order to address underlying issues.

His clinic also offers offline activities like cooking, athletics, and the arts to expose patients to new pastimes and social settings.

He wants more action from the state and business to keep kids from developing addictions in the first place.

Higuchi stated that “discussing games and internet technologies demands a balance.”
But at the moment, it appears to me that the marketing of gaming dwarfs efforts to curtail the negative features.

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