Chinese Government Limits Access to Online Video Games to 3 Hours per Week for Children and Teenagers
Earlier this week, the Chinese government’s National Press and Publication Administration imposed the strictest restriction on children’s and teenagers’ use of online video games in the country. Anyone under 18 is banned from playing online video games during weekdays. They are only allowed to play for one hour on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. This rule supersedes an existing law that limited online game playing to 90 minutes daily on weekdays and three hours on weekends and bans playing after 10 p.m.
The government claims that the rule was imposed in response to parents’ complaints that online gaming has negatively affected their children’s studies as well as their physical and mental health. Not too long ago, a Chinese state-controlled newspaper called online gaming addiction a form of “spiritual opium” and “electronic drugs.”
Undoubtedly, some parents (and spouses) outside China support this action and probably hope that their governments will do something similar. The World Health Organization recognizes video game addiction as a disorder. There are numerous stories of relationships and careers breaking down due to excessive game playing. However, whether this is a systemic societal problem or just many isolated incidents is debatable and inconclusive.
The obvious question is, why aren’t the parents controlling their children’s game time? Perhaps they are too busy working and cannot monitor their kids all the time. Or the children can outsmart the parents by hacking passwords or playing on secret mobile devices. Or perhaps the parents simply cannot control their children independently or are too afraid to impose discipline.
Chinese gaming companies will be responsible for enforcing this rule. Tencent, one of China’s biggest online gaming companies, has stated that it agrees with the rule and will comply with the law. It has self-imposed a rule for minors limiting playtime to one hour a day during the week and two hours a day during holidays and banning under-12 players from making in-game purchases.
One might wonder why Chinese video game companies like Tencent support a rule that is likely to hurt its revenues. For starters, spending from those under 16 comprises a tiny portion of the company’s revenues. So, it may be in their best interest to sacrifice this paltry revenue source instead of incurring the wrath of the Chinese government, which could result in financial disaster. But this is a slippery slope. If the government tries to expand this restriction to cover a more significant portion of the population, companies are less likely to enforce the rule if it poses a greater threat to their profits.
The law is likely to curb the growth of e-sports in China and may not be as competitive compared to other top-tier Asian countries such as Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. And this could likely affect those who earn money by playing games online.
Finally, it is possible that this rule might not have the effect that the government wants and may even backfire. This will be their first meaningful experience with state sanctions for teenagers who are affected by this restriction. Most will be good citizens and find something else to do with their time. But some may resent it and if they really want their gaming fix, they will find it elsewhere, even if it means hacking through the Great Firewall of China.
Those reasonably proficient in another language can switch to foreign online games whose companies will likely not abide by the restrictions. And while they are playing on the dark web, these people might be privy to information that the Chinese government doesn’t want them to know involving Taiwan, Hong Kong, North Korea and the United States.
Historically, laws restricting video game use have been repealed or relaxed. In 2015, China repealed a 2000 law banning the sales of game consoles citing their adverse effect on the mental health of its youth.
The law limiting online game activity to three hours per week has drawn worldwide attention because, for most people, it seems harsh, even by tiger mom standards. Perhaps video game addiction has become so widespread that the state had to step in. Or the government might be trying to impose its cultural agenda on its people. Or both. And whether this law can be meaningfully enforced remains to be seen. Only time will tell whether this law will accomplish the government’s policy goals or be repealed for one reason or another.
Let us know in the comment section how you feel about the Chinese government limiting online gameplay to its citizens.