Last week, China introduced new rules. They aren’t about the economy or family size in the communist country. Instead, the new legislation limits how much time children under age 18 can spend playing video games. Government officials say the law intends to combat gaming addiction.
Under the new law, three hours per week is the absolute maximum amount of time citizens under 18 will be allowed for video gaming in China.
China is the world’s largest video games market. According to state media, about 62.5% of Chinese minors often play games online. Chinese authorities have worried for years about gaming and internet addiction among its young people.
Chinese officials say the new rules are a response to growing concern that games are affecting the physical and mental health of the next generation. Clinics have been set up that combine therapy and military drills for those with so-called “gaming disorders.” And officials say rising rates of nearsightedness have been a concern since 2018.
One online gamer known as “Mr. Zhou,” believes the country cannot control people’s game time. “People in the end can always play on another account or buy accounts from adults.” He points out that, for teenagers, “the less [time] you get, the more curious you’ll be.”
Gaming limits aren’t a completely foreign concept in China. In 2017, Tencent Holdings limited playtime for some young users of its mobile game “Honor of Kings.” The limits came after parents and teachers complained that children were becoming addicted.
In 2019, Beijing passed laws limiting minors to less than 1.5 hours of online games on weekdays and three hours on weekends.
This July, Tencent went further. The company rolled out facial recognition technology called “midnight patrol.” Parents can switch on the function to prevent children from using adult logins to get around the government curfew.
Professor Chen Jiang teaches about the gaming industry at Peking University. “There are always loopholes,” he says. He references adults who rent accounts to young people and mobile phone alterations for gaming. Chen also predicts “human skin masks” to hide identities. (That really does begin to sound like the kind of desperation associated with true addiction.)
Some lawbreakers need look no further than home for a workaround for China’s new rules: Chen thinks “parents themselves are willing to help children in the family unlock [controls] as long as they have their permission.”
According to Chen, the “policy is certainly not a one-size-fits-all hack to kill the possibility of all young people playing games.” But he says, “It can be done.”
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything. — 1 Corinthians 6:12
What do you think about limits to video games set by a government? What is a reasonable limit?
(A graphic from the popular video minigame series, WarioWare. Graphic: Business Wire)