Kids Addicted to Video Games: Confused Parents in Japan Seek Addiction Help

“I’d rather die if you take it away from me”: in Japan, the motherland of Sony and Nintendo, video game addiction is a social problem that, like elsewhere, has worsened since the pandemic, and the local authorities are struggling to respond.

Every month, parents gather in Tokyo to share their stories and their methods about their children addicted to video games, which are accessible on consoles as well as computers, tablets or smartphones .

“My only consolation is that he kept his promise to stay offline at night,” said one father of his son, while another said he put his son on a digital detox course.

Japanese children are learning video games earlier and earlier, and many of them are playing them longer because the Covid-19 pandemic has reduced the practice of outdoor activities, giving stressed Sakiko Kuroda, the founder of this Tokyo parental group.

According to a Japanese Ministry of Education study published in April, 17% of children in the country aged 6 to 12 play video games more than four hours a day, up from 9% in 2017. .A similar jump was seen for the age group of 12-15 years.

Many parents do not know how to deal with the problem, and there is a “lack of action from the government and the video game industry,” Ms Kuroda said.

Since 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) has officially recognized “video game disorder”, which it recognizes by a “loss of control over the game” resulting in a “significant change” of personal, family, social, -educational or even professional. , for at least 12 months.

However, this “disease” is difficult to diagnose and quantify, since the practice of video games often overlaps with other online activities (watching streaming videos, social networks, etc.).

Key issues

Other Asian countries have taken sometimes drastic measures to combat the phenomenon. For more than a year, those under 18 in China were only allowed to play online for three hours a week. Thorough identity checks, including through facial recognition, are carried out to prevent free riders.

Meanwhile, South Korea lifted its ban on online computer gaming for under-16s between midnight and 6 am last year, which local media said was ineffective.

But in Japan, no restrictive measures exist at the national level. In 2020, the Kagawa department (western part of the country) definitely issued a controversial decree banning those under 18 from playing for more than an hour every day, but without any coercive means to enforce it .

Many parents and experts believe that “video game disorder” hides a deeper illness in children and that it can sometimes even save lives.

That’s why a Japanese mother told AFP that video games have become a “lifeline” for her daughter, who is struggling at school. Three years ago, when he tried to confiscate his pill, his then 10-year-old daughter said, “I’d rather die if you take it away from me.”

Takahisa Masuda, a 46-year-old social worker, became addicted to video games when he was bullied in middle school.

This addiction saved him according to him: “I thought about suicide, but I wanted to finish Dragon Quest”, a popular role-playing game.

So, instead of prescribing drastic withdrawal measures, Dr. Susumu Higuchi, director of a medical center against addictions in Kurihama (southwest of Tokyo), offers psychological support to children and joint activities (sports, art, kitchen, etc.).

He also calls for more efforts from the government and industry. “You need a balance when you’re addressing the issue of video games and digital tools,” he said.

“But currently,” he added, “I feel that measures to control the negative effects are being overwhelmed by the promotion” of video games.

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