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 and when children would be allowed to play games. It was the first ordinance of its kind 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, which g

File photo shows a Kagawa prefectural assembly session that passed an ordinance placing limits on video game playing to combat gaming addiction in March 2020. (Kyodo)

The 19-year-old 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 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 unaware 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 sets guidelines with no legal obligations to comply and therefore does not unreasonably restrict residents' rights.

The court determined Tuesday that the ordinance's purpose has a "degree of basis" and is therefore reasonable, saying in the ruling that a number of experts' opinions have alluded to the possibility that excessive gaming or internet use can cause difficulties or ill effects in social life.

The ruling also said there are calls within society for some form of preventive measures given the ease with which young people can be affected by gaming and online activities.

Citing the lack of penalty provisions in the ordinance, the court said the ordinance imposes "minimum necessary restrictions," adding that the ordinance therefore "does not impose any concrete restrictions on (the plaintiffs') rights."

In May, the plaintiffs asked to withdraw the lawsuit, citing the need to rethink their legal strategy following the resignation of their attorney, according to Tuesday's ruling. But the court denied the request and proceeded to hand down the ruling.

While the ordinance was ruled constitutional, it remains controversial, not least because the time limits imposed by the ordinance appear out of sync with the realities in which interactions through online games and social media have become commonplace.

Some experts say the ordinance should be tested for its effects and reviewed to reflect changing social realities. A lawyers association in Kagawa has called for the ordinance's abolition on the grounds that the internet and gaming have a "positive side," such as stimulating young people's intellectual curiosity and creativity.

The ordinance's bylaw says it would be reviewed once two years lapse since its implementation. But Kagawa Gov. Keizo Hamada has said the prefectural government sees no need to review the ordinance.