The health ministry plans to conduct a fact-finding survey of gaming disorder as soon as the current fiscal year, ahead of the World Health Organization’s possible addition of the behavior pattern to the International Classification of Diseases, sources have said.

Gaming disorder is characterized as “impaired control” over digital or video gaming, which is given priority over other activities to the extent of “significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning” for at least 12 months despite negative consequences, according to the WHO.

In June, the specialized U.N. agency announced a plan to add gaming disorder to the final draft of a revised ICD that is due to be adopted next May.

Some 1,500 people annually visit the National Hospital Organization Kurihama Medical and Addiction Center in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, because of addiction to the internet. “Among the pathological internet users who visit us as outpatients, 90 percent are gaming addicts and most of them are aged between 10 and 19,” said Susumu Higuchi, director of the medical center.

The patients include those who have become malnourished, shut themselves off from society or incurred huge debts because of gaming fees, as a result of regularly playing games for excessively long periods such as 18 hours per day.

The number of people with gaming disorder is increasing due to the widespread availability of smartphone games. With gaming companies holding special events and updating content on a regular basis, they have become “very strategic” in tempting players, Higuchi said.

The U.S. gaming industry opposes the WHO’s plan to add gaming disorder to the ICD, citing a scarcity of evidence proving that gaming is a source of addiction.

The Computer Entertainment Suppliers’ Association, a group of gaming companies in Japan, is publicizing the availability of measures against addition, such as apps that limit time spent playing games, on its website and through game-related information magazines. At the 2018 Tokyo Game Show in September, the association distributed information about the mechanisms through which the human brain becomes engrossed in gaming.

As it promotes competitive video gaming, dubbed esports, the industry in Japan is also reluctant to accept restrictions aimed at preventing gaming disorder.

Among the limited number of countries that have adopted such measures is South Korea, which shuts off young players’ access to online games late at night. But Higuchi noted that “the effects of the policy have yet to be examined.”

As Japan has not yet conducted any surveys focused on gaming disorder, the number of people suffering from the condition remains unknown. For that reason, the health ministry will begin research in cooperation with medical institutions in the current year until March at the earliest to establish the number of people with gaming disorder and the effects of the condition on their daily lives.

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