Gaming addictions have increased in Japan, according to recent reports from counseling services and treatment centers. Counseling services have received hundreds of requests for consultations over the past year.

Futoko Shien Center, a Nagoya-based association offering counseling services for various youth issues, said it had received 327 individual requests for consultation for online game addiction from the beginning of this year to July.

Zenkoku Web Counseling Kyogikai, a nationwide organization providing counseling services for Internet-related issues, said it had received about 150 similar requests for counseling. The Kurihama Medical and Addiction Center, known for its treatment of alcoholism, set up an outpatient division specializing in Internet-related addiction earlier this year that has treated 85 patients, mainly male middle and high school students.

Online gaming addictions have accelerated in part because of the expanding popularity of online social gaming. These networks typically offer free play at the beginning level, but charge for additional powers, skills, character qualities and other features. Players can meet others in virtual social scenarios that eventually connect back to real fees with real money.

Just as with other addictions to drugs or alcohol, though, gaming addiction can devastate people’s lives. Those addicted to gaming often play for extended periods of time, ignoring other activities, like school, work or real-world relationships. Many games are becoming more complex and absorbing by tapping into people’s hopes and fears and offering a sense of control that the real world cannot.

Medical researchers, treatment facilities and counselors now consider gaming addiction a clinical syndrome. Those who play games for extended periods suffer from poor health, bad nutrition and a lack of physical movement. Headaches, fatigue and physical weakness are the most common symptoms. A range of psychological problems can result from over-gaming, as well. Addicts suffer from insomnia, irritability, mood swings and depression.

The Consumer Affairs Agency only began to regulate online social gaming this year. They should speed up their regulation and be sure that gaming companies operate in a safe and reasonable way. Complaints over minors running up high charges for online gaming has led some gaming companies, such as Gree and DeNA to adopt self-imposed restrictions designed to discourage overuse and overspending by minors.

However, that self-regulation is only a first step. Greater controls, such as time limits and usage restraints, are needed, as with any potentially harmful consumer product or activity. Research into the problem of online gaming addiction deserves funding and support. Parents of young people in danger of becoming addicted need to set strict limits on usage to ensure that their children enjoy online games in a safe and reasonable manner.

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