The Perils of Gaming Addiction

Look at the people around you, on the street, the subway train, in parks and cafes. They're most likely stooped over and staring into smartphones, mesmerized and immobile except for a single finger tapping furiously.

Gaming addiction in Japan is becoming a serious social problem. Some hardcore game addicts eventually need medical treatment.

In Tokyo's Shibuya district, young people especially are frequently seen with their eyes glued to their phone screen.

One young man says he spends way too much time playing video games, sometimes from midnight to 3 A.M. Another says he probably plays more than 10 hours a day and has failed his school exams. Yet another says once he's hooked, he plays to the end. He says he's probably spent close to $2,000 (about 200,000 yen) on games.

A severe case

A first-year high school student we spoke with said he spent 16 hours a day playing games on his phone. He said he had skipped most of his classes in junior high.

He said he held his phone continuously, all day long, except when he was sleeping or in the bath. He said he felt like he couldn't live without it.

In elementary school, he was bullied and was often absent as a result. He said he made friends with the people he met online playing video games.

He said the games were important to him because he had very few friends at school. He said he also played to avoid doing things he didn't like doing.

His addiction to video games caused health problems. In hospital 3 years ago, he was told he had the lungs of a 52-year-old, due to lack of exercise.

Physical and mental health effects

A medical institution specialized in treating game addiction surveyed 120 addicts. The results suggest most of them have difficulty managing daily life. 75 percent said they can't wake up in the morning, and 59 percent said they're missing school or work.

Some respondents said their behavior had become aggressive. Half of this group said they deliberately destroyed objects, while 26 percent admitted to becoming violent with family members.

We spoke with the head of the Kurihama Medical and Addiction Center, which is part of the National Hospital Organization. He said video game addiction is the cause of both physical and mental health problems. He said regulations are needed to protect young people's health.

Game addiction is also a global problem. The World Health Organization plans to add it to the list of diseases next month, but the games industry in the US and other countries is opposed to this.

The young addict we spoke with was hospitalized twice before entering senior high school this spring. He's trying to beat his addiction.

He says in the past he felt like he lived to play video games, but now, he's scared by it.

He says now he wants to do better in school, both in his studies and making friends.