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.

ICD-11 video game addiction is being pushed without proper backing

Without a doubt certain percentage of people who play electronic games overdo their hobby. However, this is only for a small percentage of the overall enthusiasts and hobbyists. Furthermore, it would seem that problematic gaming, that is the consumption of electronic gaming that is detrimental to everyday life, itself grows itself thin in time and dissipates on its own. A longitudinal study showed this with 112 adolescents. I’ve already covered why the proposal for gaming disorder has no basis, but it would appear pushing for its suggestions into ICD-11 has merit to it. Merit that wouldn’t serve science, culture, markets or consumers.

Ferguson wrote that less than 1% of people experience video game addiction. His writing is a good read. Game addiction in itself is a very different nature from e.g. gambling. I’ve actually covered issues with pairing electronic gaming and gambling with each other previously, but to make short story even shorter, video game addiction is far more often a symptom of an underlying problem than the cause in itself. Ferguson’s own study supports this. Hell, there’s even a paper arguing against the very concept of video game addiction.

In a discussion between Ferguson and an administrator at the World Health Organisation acknowledged political pressure from countries, particularly from Asian ones, factoring in the inclusion of video game addiction into ICD-11. If countries are pushing its inclusion, that means scientific basis comes second at best and whatever political stance these nations have come in first. That is extremely dangerous, as adding video game addiction opens doors for other far more intrusive and harmful suggestions to be included under its umbrella. Considering video game addiction is extremely loosely defined and would require far more research than what it has, there’s no guarantee any of the future additions would have better research behind it.

You may be asking yourself what nations would have need or use for this sort of addition to the ICD-11. Some nations have reported more deaths from non-stop gaming than others, and mostly we hear these reports from either China or South Korea. In 2005 a 28-years old man died because his heart failed during a session of Starcraft, BBC reports. It is interesting to note from that article that despite Starcraft being a real-time strategy game, professor Mark Griffith only talks about MMORPGs, a very different genre of game. You have far less interaction with your opponent in Starcraft that you have in e.g. World of Warcraft.

South Korea has seen drastic changes in its electronic game landscape, and one of the more worrisome changes came around 2014, when some members of the government began to regard games as a detrimental pastime. South Korea has discussed to enact game addition bill to limit not only the amount of time people should be allowed to play, but also games themselves. However, when you have legislators directly comparing video games to tobacco and alcohol, there is something amiss. South Korean gaming culture is far different from any other, e.g. you can actually graduate to be an e-Sports player. However, much like any other person who has a career in “sports,” e-Sports players suffer from injuries as well. Seeing how the South Korean culture has almost twisted games and e-Sports into a national pastime, it’s no wonder a lot of young people are willing to give a chance to become a player worth millions of wons.

The thing is, South Korea does have a problem with gaming, but rather as we are lacking in evidence for gaming addiction (we have more researches saying against it as linked above), it is far more probable that the South Korean gaming problem is a symptom from an underlying social and cultural troubles. Putting legislation that equates games with drugs and alcohol won’t cure the problem, it will manifest itself some other way later down the line.

Passing a law based on game addiction is hard when you have nothing to base it on. However, if ICD-11 would recognize video game addiction as a valid illness, there would be no need for debating or researching the issue much further; after all, you can simply point out that it’s in the books. That would be injustice.

One of the gaming limiting laws has already passed. The Shutdown law was passed in 2011 and limits people aged under 16 from playing online games during the night between 00:00 and 06:00. While this would sound decent in principle, it is not the government’s job to do what parents should be doing. Furthermore, this law challenged in few occasions as unconstitutional. However, the law is still in effect, albeit nowadays parents can request the ban being lifted from their child.

China’s following this South Korean example with similar legislation that would ban gaming outright from people aged under 18 between 00:00 and 08:00, and would necessitate computers and smartphones to be fitted software that would track down law breakers. Both South Korea and China require their people to use their real IDs when accessing their gaming accounts. In case of South Korea, this is a necessity with many of their websites in general. However, in 2012 Real Name Rule was struck down and rejected by court. The law requiring the usage of users’ real names was introduced in 2007 to combat cyber-bullying. Again, this is treating the symptom, not the cause. Furthermore, as gaming is a million-dollar business, by accusing game industry creating addictive products, governments could push forwards for harsher taxations and other underhanded shenanigans to gain more from the revenues. This may sound like a foil-hat idea, but seeing how few years back we found game journalism colluding and attacking their consumers and recently CIA spying everyone everywhere, this isn’t far fetched.

Games of any kind, be it sports, card games or anything else, are addictive in their own way. For modern electronic games, it’s a whole mess to open why they could be addictive outside the usual action-reward scheme. This is because electronic games have more dimensions than gambling. After all, games are a tool to give leeway for people from their everyday life in an electronic way that supports social interaction through cultural landscape and aims to both challenge and please the players at the same time. They are not gambling, except Complete Gacha in Japan, as gambling quite literally requires wagering money or something else valuable under uncertain conditions for higher gains. Of course, games are designed to pull the player in and be enjoyable, but that is what every form of entertainment does.

If video game addiction would have something to be tied to, it would be escapism. Escapism is always tied to something else than the tool people escape through, and the question I must ask here; what are people escaping from if they are willing to kill and die because of video games?

ICD-11 proposal for gaming disorder has no basis

World Health Organization has a new proposal in the ICD-11 category, one which would add ‘Gaming disorder’ as a valid disease. The definition for this disease would be the impaired control over daily life in which video games would gain priority despite negative consequences. This is tied to Hazardous gaming, where a pattern of gaming that causes physical or mental harm to the individual or to people around of this individual. Hazardous gaming is essentially just a step towards gaming disorder.

I’m calling bullshit on this proposal as it is now.

You probably clicked the link above and read the short description for gaming disorder. Just from that alone we can surmise few problems the proposal has. First of all, the proposal includes only video games, leaving arcade and PC gaming alone, and hazardous gaming simply refers it as ‘gaming.‘ Granted, the terminology I’m using is more old fashioned in comparison, but using video game as an umbrella term for all electronic gaming is weak at best and shows the authors have little knowledge of the industry’s history. Because of this the proposal ignores the fact that games like pachislot, that is undeniably a video game if we were to use the modern umbrella term, are more dependent on gambling addiction than on the proposed form of gaming disorder.

To add to this, those who are playing video games as a career in some form would be singled out to have this disorder. Psychology as a soft science struggles with things like this, as case studies may not apply to the larger population and vice versa. Furthermore, what is considered harmful in these cases is somewhat open question again. The discussion about what is normal behaviour falls into behavioural psychology a bit too heavily and would be a discussion on its own. I would argue in this case that a person who would have symptoms of gaming disorder may simply be a person who is a hermit and finds solitude in his hobby instead of mingling with people. Whether or not he has a disorder would be questioned. Furthermore, if we were to change the hobby in an individual case like this to something like watching movies, would he then have movie viewing disorder? Such disorder does not exist in the papers and has never been proposed thus far.

There are no long-term studies that would support gaming disorder as proposed. Even short-term studies are hard to come by, and the few examples I had in my mind have eluded for me for the time being. However, the addictive action that electronic games offer is not much any different from other forms of similar activities, but these are not singled out as separate diseases for whatever reason. No other leisure activity like video games, or electronic gaming if you’re an old fart like me, has been singled out like this. While some could argue that gambling falls into this category as a singled out, the psychology of gambling is a bit too much to open here and has proper research basis to back it up.

Furthermore, 26 scholars have written an open letter, rebutting this proposal. You can read the whole thing at Research Gate. Their arguments is that inclusion for gaming disorder, even as a proposal, would have economic effects on the industry. Singling a media out like this would be akin to showcasing the harmful effects of tobacco, the difference here being tobacco’ negative effects had solid evidence behind them. Possible effects of this proposal would be adverse limitations on the industry at large. At worst, possible prohibitions and limitations of what sort of games and what content games could have could be realised. South Korea already employs harsh limitations on games as it is. Last UN’s CEDAW (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women) wanted to ban Japanese media that depicted sexual violence against women. Kumiko Yamada, the representative of Japanese wing of Women’s Institute of Contemporary Media Culture, responded to CEDAW’s proposal by stating that their view on the matter was an absolute No. Translated version on Niche Gamer. The reasoning to Japan’s response was that first of all, they are fiction and do not threaten real people. Second reason was that these fields are filled with women, and such ban would do the exact opposite what CEDAW’s aimed at, as disallowing these women to portray fiction whatever they wished would create new venues of sexism towards women. If this proposal about gaming disorder would pass, it would mean limitations and even bans similar to this would come to pass under the guise of population health concerns.

As the open letter states, passing the proposal could lead into a moral panic. Gaming in general is no foreign to these, as the industry’s history is well marked with controversies regarding violent games, and more recently about games with sexual content. This would tie itself to the aforementioned limitations and bans, when in reality no good evidence is backing up.

As such, if the proposal would to pass, it would be met with harsh criticism and high scepticism from both common population and scholars. The open letter goes even further and states that passing gaming disorder would harm WHO’s reputation and medical community in general, would dramatically reduce the utility of such a diagnosis, especially when it is not grounded in proper evidence base. Singling games out from the rest of the media out there would open a Pandora’s box of behavioural disorders, where any and all activities from sports to gardening could be diagnosed as a behavioural disorder, saturating and demeaning the whole field at large.

The question you may have now whether or not I am deluded enough to say that there is no disordered gaming. That answer would be No. There are numerous ways a person may end up playing games more that it is healthy, but in numerous researched I’ve read the core reason is more often than not somewhere else. An action in itself can be just a symptom, and singling our excessive gaming in itself disorder would put a patient in possible danger if the underlying reasons are not solved and properly treated. The proposal’s worst case scenario considering health could be treating a symptom while completely disregarding the cause.