China's Youth Gamers Limited to 1 Hour Per Day

By Joshua Cawthorpe, September 4, 2021

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China’s strictest regulations on minors playing video games were recently announced to combat gaming addiction, according to Xinhua. 

China’s National Press and Publication Administration told online gaming companies to limit the playing time of gamers under 18 to one hour per day on weekends and holidays. There’s even a specific time slot from 8-9pm when under-18s can play.

The Economist suggests that there are approximately 110 million under-18 gamers in the Middle Kingdom. While some lauded the strict new rules, others felt the new rules were unfair. 

One Weibo user questioned why teenagers can work at 16 and the age of sexual consent is 14, but video games require one to be 18 years old. Another suggested that this would simply lead to a resurgence of offline video gaming.

Video game addiction has been in the crosshairs of Chinese regulators for some time and comments made in early August sent game developer stocks tumbling.

The wildly popular online game Honor of Kings was specifically named in a treatise on gaming addiction released by Economic Information Daily on August 3. The article in the Xinhua-affiliated newspaper referred to online games as ‘spiritual opium’ in reference to their highly addictive nature being a detriment to society. It added that no industry, regardless of how successful, could be “allowed to develop in a way that will destroy a generation.”

Tencent's 'Honor of Kings' is a battle arena game similar to 'League of Legends.' Image via @粉色小狗QAQ/Weibo

Tencent, which created popular messaging app WeChat, is also behind Honor of Kings. Reuters reports that the company's stock price fell 10% in the wake of the newspaper article due to speculation that regulations would follow. 

Beijing has recently introduced strict new rules for Chinese tech giants, specifically those that impact the younger generations. However, American developers were not immune, with Activision Blizzard and EA shedding 3.8% and 2.8%, respectively.

Related technology stocks fell again after the strict new rules were announced last Monday. Al Jazeera reported that Tencent dipped 3.6% on Tuesday to bring the overall losses, despite recovering somewhat since early August, to 5%.

Tencent stock price activity during August. Screengrab via Yahoo Finance

Prior to the scathing ‘spiritual opium’ comments, Tencent launched the ‘midnight-patrol’ technology to curb youth gaming. The program uses facial recognition to ensure that registered accounts are not being shared with young people at night. 

Guidelines released in November 2019 restricted gameplay times, capped in-game spending and forbid gaming by minors from 10pm to 8am, as per the BBC. Gamer accounts required real-name authentication with Chinese ID cards. The midnight patrol software aimed to close the obvious gap in this policy. The program was originally tested in 2018 following a previous round of similar regulations.

In mid-2018, the World Health Organization included ‘gaming disorder’ in the International Classification of Diseases. However, China was the first country to define ‘internet addiction’ as a clinical diagnosis back in 2008.

[Cover image via @德照網/Weibo]

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