Photo/Illutration A child plays a video game. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Addictions to online activities and video games have surged in Japan during the COVID-19 pandemic, and dependence on such diversions was more pronounced among individuals infected with the virus, a survey showed.

The study, conducted in August 2020 by researchers primarily from mobile carrier KDDI Corp. and the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR), covered 50,000 men and women ranging in age from 20 to 69 nationwide.

“People’s dependence (on the internet and video games) has increased in the coronavirus epidemic,” said Taiki Oka, an ATR official who compiled the research results.

Around 4,000 of the respondents were also covered in the previous survey conducted in December 2019, enabling the researchers to compare the level of dependence on the internet and video games before the pandemic and after the virus had spread around Japan.

Based on a globally used assessment scale for internet addiction and video gaming disorders, the study found that the number of those exhibiting signs of internet addiction rose 1.5 times to 11.6 percent from 7.9 percent over that period.

They put their online activities ahead of everything else or were unable to control how much time they spent on the internet.

People who increased their time on smartphones both on weekdays and weekends were more prone to develop internet addiction, the study showed.

According to the telecommunications ministry’s data, smartphone usage lengthened on workdays and holidays during COVID-19 states of emergency.

The research team said the spread of the virus led people to postpone non-urgent plans, giving them more time to play on their phones.

The rate of individuals addicted to video games was up 1.6-fold to 5.9 percent from 3.7 percent, the study showed.

The addicts were defined as those who were unable to stop playing video games, gave the games the top priority in daily life, and showed other signs of video gaming disorder.

There was also a rise in individuals suffering from other symptoms of the disorder, including an increasing desire to play more difficult-to-beat titles and “withdrawal symptoms” stemming from discontinued play.

COVID-19 patients were 5.67 times more likely to become addicted to video games than those free from the virus, the study showed.

The patients apparently increased their use of video games and the internet to ease stress stemming from being infected.

Dependence on the internet or video games was especially high among people younger than 30.

Oka said such addictions should not be regarded as a tentative, pandemic-related issue.

“Reining in infections is essential (to reducing addiction rates) but how to live properly with smartphones and video games should also be considered at the same time,” he said.

The team’s findings were published on the mental medicine magazine Journal of Psychiatric Research at (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychires.2021.07.054).