Japan court upholds constitutionality of gaming addiction ordinance

The Takamatsu District Court in western Japan on Tuesday upheld the constitutionality of a local ordinance placing limits on video game playing to combat gaming addiction, rejecting a lawsuit by a man and his mother who sought damages for alleged violations to their right to self-determination.

Implemented in Kagawa Prefecture in April 2020, the ordinance set guidelines on how long or when children would be allowed to play games. It was the first ordinance of the kind implemented in Japan.

The plaintiffs sought 1.6 million yen ($11,550) in damages from the prefectural government, saying the ordinance violated Article 13 of the Constitution, guaranteeing their right to liberty and pursuit of happiness, and had caused mental distress.

The man was a high school student in the capital city Takamatsu when filing the suit in September 2020.

The ordinance calls for families to set rules on playing hours for children and recommends limiting video game playing to 60 minutes per day on school days for those under 18 years of age and 90 minutes a day on non-school days.

The ordinance also advises limiting online game playing to until 9 p.m. for junior high school students aged between 12 and 15 and younger children and until 10 p.m. for older children. Guardians are urged to make efforts to make sure their children observe the rules, though the ordinance has no penalty provisions.

The ordinance's stated purpose is to prevent game addiction, which is associated with issues such as reduced academic and physical performance, being socially reclusive and suffering sleep disorders.

But the plaintiffs argued that there is no scientific rationality in the purpose or spirit of the ordinance because the government has told parliament that it was not aware of any scientific basis for the purported effectiveness of imposing time limits to prevent gaming addiction.

The prefectural government disputed the plaintiffs' claims, noting that the World Health Organization has recognized "gaming disorder" as a syndrome.

Prefectural authorities also dismissed the notion that the ordinance is unconstitutional, as it only set guidelines with no legal obligations to comply and therefore does not deny the rights of residents unfairly.

The younger plaintiff, now 19, attempted to withdraw the lawsuit in April, but the request was denied by the district court, which then proceeded to hand down Tuesday's ruling.

© Kyodo News