Kagawa prefecture’s gaming restrictions have weak scientific basis

Back in March, Japanese prefecture Kagawa announced their local assembly had passed an ordinance to limit the time children spend next to a screen, specifically stating that the excess usage of the Internet and playing video games lead to such results as socially reclusive behaviour and causing sleeping disorders. They admit that there are no ways to enforce the ruling properly and that it is more a recommendation of sorts. This of course comes in the wake of WHO classifying a gaming disorder without any proper evidence that such exist, something I’ve covered on the blog. While it seemingly has majority support, we have no real way of telling what sort of sample size there were that gave the over 80% positive support.

The ruling states that children are to have one hour of play time during weekdays and an hour and a half during weekends, as well as giving guidelines on the hours which devices can be used. Naoki Ogi, an educational pundit, praised the ruling as a way to give parents who are at loss to deal with their children’s smartphone usage. By giving specific guidelines parents are now able to create the proper household rules. This was echoed by a 43-year old mother of two children, who can’t stop her kids from playing games about two hours a day. At this glance, it would appear the ruling shows more support towards parents who can’t really handle their children, or know how to limit their screentime with games or phones. Kagawa’s ruling is about trying to curb the gaming disorder WHO has determined, and as such has an extremely weak leg to stand on as the scientific evidence ICD-11 stands on is weak at best, misinformed at worst.

This is why a teenager who goes by the name Wataru has decided to crowdfund a legal action against Kagawa and its ruling. He states that the government has no role to step in to rule over family matters such as these. Then again, this being Japan and the culture they have does rely rather heavily on pre-set rules and not wanting to rock the boat, so it is most likely a helpful thing for parents to have guidelines to work with in issues they have no real skill in. The generational gap between children and their parents when it comes to electronic entertainment and digital interactions is relatively strong, and parents who don’t understand why video games offer a way to release stress or entertain oneself most likely will only cause a negative impact. Some find solace in gaming as a hobby and thus belong to an extended world wide community. Argumentd that claim that gaming encourages anti-social behaviour is, to put it straight, horse shit. Gaming is one of the most social hobbies out there, connecting people through discussion groups or multiplayer sessions. People may not be meeting face to face in most cases, but people who share the same interests in the similar kind of games often find themselves forging new social ties. Of course there are children and adults who use gaming as a way to cope with their issues via escapism or such, in which case the issues isn’t the games. While there are cases where a person does end up being addicted to video games, the reasons have been less explored. It’s easy to blame the way these people have been coping rather than trying to deal with the underlying reasons.

Wataru argues that the guidelines Kagawa prefecture has put out have no scientific basis on the same grounds. He states that it is a false premise that gaming causes truancy and addition, when truancy is caused by external factors like issues in school and gaming is their way to find relief. Despite the ruling intended as general guidelines rather than solid law that should be enforced, Wataru has experienced being kicked off from servers after 22:00. It should be noted that 595 people signed a petition against the ruling when submitted, though now the count has growing towards 900. The petition is being still shared and supported. Wataru’s lawyer, Tomoshi Sakka, also sees the ruling to violate Japanese constitution, as it ensures a person’s right of self-determination. Taro Yamada, a House of Councilors member with experience and knowledge on the Internet’s usage and freedom of speech in Japan, has stated the ordinance to be nonsense and only targets time of usage and doesn’t account how integrated digital communication is in our, and our children’s, daily lives. This should be especially noted in Japan, which has a longer and richer history in usage of mobile phones as a form of daily interaction than in most countries, and why flip phones were a pop-cultural icon for almost twenty years (and in many ways, still are.) You can see Wataru’s interview on the topic and of his intentions on Youtube, but do note that it has no English subtitles.

Apparently, Japan has more rulings of this kind. Wataru noted that there has been an increase of rules to deter children’s right to have fun, citing an example how playgrounds have banned football, or the use of balls of any kind. Perhaps rulings like this are a symptom how Japanese population is growing older and considerations towards children are falling. The ageing population would find themselves passing rulings to support themselves first and foremost, but it might backfire and create a gulf between the generations. Kagawa’s ruling was the first of its kind Japan and the education board of Odate (Akita prefecture) intends to follow their blazing trail and introduce similar restrictions to combat video game addiction by submitting their own ordinance by March 2021. Not to say that an ordinance is all that unique. Back in 2014, Kariya of Aiichi prefecture banned children from using mobile devices after 21:00. Well back in 2009 the Japanese education ministry banned elementary and junior high school students from carrying phones at schools as they didn’t consider them a necessary part of education, but last year they revised their stance after ten years of technological advancements, noting that such devices had become essential in the classroom studies. The Education department of the Osaka Prefectural government had already allowed the aforementioned to carry phones into the classroom, mostly due to the earthquake that took place in northern part of Osaka in June 2018.

While it is uncertain if Wataru is able to sue Kagawa over its ruling, these past months, especially right after the ruling itself, social media has been buzzing about it. Politicians like Kenzo Fujisae of the independent Upper House lawmaker has opposed the ruling on his blog. He echoes statements the public and Wataru has made, questioning how valid is an ordinance that can’t be enforced or overseen as well as stating that combatting “gaming disorder” in this manner has no scientific basis. Fujisae also points out that by limiting the time of play like this retards the connections that can be through online games, which breaks connections between promising future partnerships. He notes that the interactions through the Internet and games can also save people, probably meaning that online intercourse may be some people’s only way to connect with the like-minded. Tokihiro Matsumoto of Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward also questioned the ruling by pointing out how it would directly affect local eSports participants as well as how he thinks how old fashioned it is to apply such restrictions. While these are just two examples, the buzz did get a reaction from Keizo Hamada, stating that they’d be open to discuss the contents of the proposed regulations back in January, but seeing Watasru is crowdfunding his a case against Kagawa would be a sign that no significant changes were made. It is doubtful that anything comes from the lawsuit, if it even gets off the ground. However, Kagawa’s ordinance relying on WHO’s gaming disorder is a dangerous precedence, as now other cities and prefectures can apply similar reasoning on other weak cases.

Gaming Disorder lacks supporting evidence still

As a prepper for this post, I’d recommend reading on ICD-11 in my two previous posts about the topic. Long story short though, APA’s and WHO’ recognised Gaming Disorder in May of 2019, which is determined by three factors: impaired control over gaming, where a person can’t control intensity, time, context or termination of a playing session; increased priority given to gaming over other daily activities and interests; and constant continuation and escalation of gaming despite its harmful effects on the patient and his surroundings. If these sound somewhat loose, that’s because they are. The determinants can fit any person who has a keen interest and passion to anything ranging from people who go to the gym, dancers, film fanatics and so on. The diagnosis was pushed through despite lacking in hard data and evidence, and unnamed whistleblowers have stated that it passed because of certain Asian countries pushing for it. It’s not hard to see China having its fingers in the pie, considering China has been getting bad rap for its Social status system, and now have put legislative limitations how long a minor can play. There’s also a curfew, disallowing plating games between 22:00 and 08:00. There’s also limitations on how much money people can spend on games.

University of Oxford recently announced results of a study, where they found gaming to have no real psychologically negative impact on their set of 1000 participants. The study found that adolescents’ gaming was more tied to their innate and natural need for competition, competence, autonomy and part of social belonging with their peers as part of their social circles. This isn’t anything new in itself, as play has always been part of human social structure. Despite what adults may tell their kids, even adults play games, be it chess, cards or whatnot. The form of play may change, even become work, but play is necessary link of almost every psyche on this planet. Key findings from the research support this, as most adolescents played at least one Internet game-based game daily, aka some sort of online multiplayer game, less than half online gamers reported symptoms of obsessive gaming, daily players clocked around three hours of highly engaged and motivated playing and there was little evidence of obsessive gaming impacting the participants. While allowing the participants to fill in their own forms and reporting on their behaviour isn’t exactly the best method, we should note their guardians were also part of the study and probably could see their children’s habits a bit better.

However, it would seem like a minority of gamers still found themselves obsessively playing games due to everyday frustrations and psychological satisfactions games bring. It would seem that modern gaming offers similar gateways for escapism as literature and film do, but this time with the element of action, not just inaction. It should not be surprising that a person might find escapist satisfaction in an online multiplayer game, where he might be a grand knight of some sort, whilst in his everyday life he goes unappreciated and his deeds go unnoticed.

Earlier on, Przybylski was part of a study that found no evidence on video games causing violent behaviour. This research has been described as most definitive to date, noting that there are multiple ways to analyse the same data, resulting in opposite results, in which a researcher can intentionally or not practice cherry picking. While there is no correlation between gaming and violence in the study, it does note that gaming affects the player like any other media or non-digital/electronic game. Trash talking in a competitive situation is more or less normal behaviour and even expected. The issue lays less with games themselves than in expected action and sheer nature of competition. Much like how social media doesn’t drive depression (in reality, it is the people on social media that do it, and you can affect how you feel when using social media by choosing what you view and how) and how technology addiction is supposedly lowering quality of life (which has no basis or support behind it), there are assumptions that the consumed form of media is the main culprit behind the unbalanced behaviour rather than the result. Gaming isn’t like smoking tobacco, but obsessive and excessive gaming could be described to be similar why some people smoke three packs a day; their life is stupidly stressful and they have to have some way out, be it by filling themselves with nicotine to calm and relax themselves or competing in a virtual environment where they excel or want to lose themselves in there.

Of course, if there were no video games to be consumed, these people would find some other outlet for their behaviour. There’s a chart floating around, which shows how violent crimes fell right after Doom was released, jokingly suggesting people who otherwise might’ve end up going on the streets and beating people up opted to play a violent game instead. After all, you can get an extremely intense feeling and its release with a video game, perhaps even safer than what would otherwise be possible. While I’m not suggesting games are full replacement for real actions, substitute actions via play is again something very much part of human nature and such things as playfighting is what animals do as well. We’ve just managed to create elaborate virtual environments for that. Forbes has a small article on this, pointing out that there are numerous studies mostly pointing the opposite.

If you’ve read this blog to some extent, you’ve heard all this before, and probably know that the unsaid criticism of modern game studies and industry itself is that it’s nothing new; video and computer games are just the same old games in a new package. Playing games and losing yourself in fiction is nothing new, they have existed in the human psyche for ages. Only the way play has been presented and packaged as has changed. At the base level, playing a game is still a form of competition against or for something. The Gaming Disorder is putting a blame on something that, in reality, has little to do with the lack of mental well-being in daily life that drives some people to obsessive gaming. If there were no modern electronic games, the object of obsession would be something different, like gambling or other from of media. It’s an easy blame for a problem that is hard to handle and solve.