Children and teenagers may game only on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and national holidays — and only between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. Online game vendors have already complied with the new rules and are now requiring logins that are real-name verified. Tencent, the country’s leading gaming developer, has even rolled out a facial-recognition login feature dubbed “midnight patrol” to prevent children from using adult logins to get around the curfew.
These new restrictions — which affect more than 268 million people in China — seem incomprehensible and unacceptable in the free world and have been criticized as a gross interference of the state in the private life of its citizens. So, what got into China?
State-run news agency Xinhua claims authorities have implemented these restrictions as a way to protect the youth. In the weeks leading up to the new policy, Xinhua and other Chinese state media have gone as far as comparing video games to “spiritual opium” and “electronic drugs.”
Video games cannot be allowed to destroy a generation, says China
In early September, new rules introduced by the Chinese government came into effect: everyone under the age of 18 cannot enjoy more than three hours of online video game time per week. Furthermore, this allocated playtime can’t be used whenever one pleases.
These new rules serve to tighten earlier limits set in place by the Chinese government, which had restricted online playtime to 90 minutes during the weekdays and three hours on weekends for those under 18. Gaming consoles like the Sony PlayStation or Microsoft Xbox have been banned in China since 2000.
According to statistics released by Chinese state media, 6 in 10 Chinese minors play online video games frequently. More than one in 10 spend more than two hours each day during the school week playing online games on their mobile devices.
Some parents have responded by sending their kids to military-style camps where no devices are allowed for months to combat so-called “gaming disorders.”
At least one parent of a teenager working in our office actually cheered out aloud at this news when we heard it. You still can’t wipe the smile off her face. 😉 — Stephen McDonell (@StephenMcDonell) August 30, 2021
Chinese authorities believe abusing online games interferes too much with children’s school assignments and personal growth, as well as affects their health. For instance, China blames video games for its growing cases of nearsightedness among children. But are there that many Chinese children addicted to video games and are their lives so much negatively affected by them that these rules are warranted? Data is woefully lacking in this respect, but it is very likely that Chinese parents and especially Chinese authorities have a different view of what constitutes genuine gaming addiction — and at the end of the day, this wouldn’t be the first time the Chinese government imposes this type of restriction.
What gaming addiction is Joanne Orlando, a digital wellbeing expert and psychologist at Western Sydney University, says that gaming addiction resembles gambling addiction. Once you cross the line from a leisure activity to compulsive and intense behavior, you’re entering addiction territory.
According to Orlando, playtime isn’t indicative of developing an addiction, it’s behavior. As long as a child doesn’t show harmful behavior, time spent gaming isn’t necessarily a cause of concern. In fact, according to the American Psychiatric Association, only 0.3% to 1% of the population will be diagnosed with gaming addiction. That being said, many modern online games are specifically designed to be very compelling. These games provide incentives that hook players and motivate them to spend as much time playing as possible through a clever design of missions, rewards, and gameplay. Some children who lack self-restraint may end up having the gameplay them rather than the other way around. It is because of these dopamine-firing design elements that Chinese officials hyperbolically compare video games to opium.
losing control over how much you’re gamingprioritising gaming to the extent that it takes precedence over other activities and interestscontinuing to game despite negative effects on school, family life, work, health, hygiene, relationships, finances or social relationships. The World Health Organization says that a person needs to demonstrate all three of these symptoms in order to receive a gaming addiction diagnosis: