Online games connect children of Japan in pandemic era, but drug addiction on the rise


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A boy plays an online game in Toyonaka City, Osaka Prefecture. (Mainichi / Ryohei Masukawa)

OSAKA – During the long months of the coronavirus pandemic, as people were encouraged to stay indoors and socially distant, Japanese children increasingly turned to virtual online gaming communities to stay in touch with their friends. At the same time, some critics fear that children may rely too much on games.

An 8-year-old boy in third grade, with a mask hanging from one of his ears, held a tablet in his hand. He moved the characters around the screen with his fingers and communicated in English with a friend, who was far from the boy’s house in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture. The boy’s 48-year-old mother watched over him, smiling.

The boy had moved to Toyonaka in June 2020 after spending around 3 years in the state of Georgia in the southern United States due to his father’s job. His school has not suffered any temporary closures due to the coronavirus pandemic, but he should avoid the three Cs: closed spaces, crowded places and places of close contact. There was a long time that he couldn’t play with his new friends even when he wanted to.

What provided the emotional support the boy needed turned out to be the online game Minecraft, which was installed on the family tablet. He and his friends could freely create a world by assembling blocks in a virtual space. And like in an adventure game, it was possible to see the world from different angles. When the boy lived in the United States, he rarely played online or video games, but after returning to Japan, he remained in close contact with his friends in the United States through Minecraft. He also got closer to his mother’s friend’s daughter who also lives in Osaka Prefecture through online gambling, and now they meet once a month to play in person.

“I still don’t have a lot of friends in Japan so I’m really happy to have the game,” the boy said with a smile. His mother nodded. “My son didn’t speak much when we returned to Japan for the first time, but as the game progressed he got sunnier,” she said. “We can also play as a family, which brings us closer together. And I think being in contact with people living abroad will help my son gain an international perspective.” Through a discussion between mother and son, weekday play time is limited to about 40 minutes in the morning before going to school, and about an hour after returning home.



Students at Ritsumeikan Elementary School play the online game Minecraft in which they build a virtual world using blocks. (Photo courtesy of Ritsumeikan Elementary School)



An image of the Phoenix Hall at Byodoin Temple recreated in Minecraft by students from Ritsumeikan Elementary School. It was introduced to children abroad online. (Photo courtesy of Ritsumeikan Elementary School)

There have been movements to use online games in schools. Ritsumeikan Primary School in the Kita district of Kyoto has been using Minecraft in its ICT (Information and Communication Technology) classroom since 2017. The fifth and sixth graders each receive a tablet and work with their classmates. in the virtual world to replicate Kyoto’s cultural treasures such as The Phoenix Hall of Byodoin Temple. They then present their work to elementary school children in America and others, and ask for feedback.

The aim of this weekly course is to acquire presentation, imagination and communication skills. “When adults think of games, they have this image of a gamer doing something on his own in silence,” said Hidekazu Shoto, 38, who teaches the class. “But that doesn’t have to be the case. Because this is a collaborative activity through pictures, students cannot use, for example, abstract expressions such as ‘Go over there’, meaning that the volume and quality of communication differs (from non-virtual life). Schools that use games in their classrooms are slowly increasing. ”

There is a wide range of games online and they are recognized as a valuable forum for interaction and as an educational resource, but there are also concerns that people are using games for increasingly longer periods of time and becoming become tools of escape. . In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently certified gambling disorder – gambling that prevents you from performing daily activities – as addictive behavior. According to a Japanese gaming industry data almanac for 2021, the popularity of the game among Japanese people aged 5 to 59 in 2020 increased 10% from the previous year to 52.73 million people. . This is the highest number recorded since 2015, when investigations began.

A study conducted by the Kyoto Prefecture International Research Institute for Advanced Telecommunications (ATR) and others on 3,938 men and women aged 20 to 69 nationwide and published in October 2021 showed that the ratio of people with a tendency to gambling has increased by about 1.6 times. after the start of the coronavirus pandemic in Japan. In December 2019, before the pandemic, it was 3.7%, while in August 2020, after the virus spread, it was 5.9%. The analysis showed that the chances of a COVID-19 patient developing a gambling addiction were at least five times higher than those of a person who did not have the virus. An ATR representative said: “It is likely that stress from the coronavirus is a contributing factor (to gambling addiction).”

According to the Oneness Group Foundation, based in Okinawa Prefecture, which supports people recovering from online gambling addiction and other conditions, unlike gambling and alcohol addiction, play is prevalent among children and young people.

The group consults with gambling addicts and their guardians by phone or email, and provides mental health services. Some of the people who come to the group for help are young people whose days and nights have changed and their grades have dropped as a result, as well as those who couldn’t stop shopping in the game. and went so far as to secretly use their parents’ credit cards. The organization said the number of consultations per month in 2020 increased by about 1.5 times compared to the pre-coronavirus era, to reach around 70-80.

Oneness Group psychiatric social worker Takayuki Miyake, 47, said: “There are many cases where children and young people who were already familiar with online games became obsessed with them after the coronavirus pandemic. knocked and that schools have temporarily closed, or that the public has been urged not to We must, through repeated discussions with people who ask us for help, understand why they have become unable to stop playing to games and solve the problems they carry in their hearts, step by step.

(Japanese original by Ryohei Masukawa, Osaka Regional News Department)

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