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China decides to take some drastic measures against “internet addiction”, but is it really the right way forward?

China now boasts the world’s harshest limits on video games after the state released new regulations for youths on 30 August 2021. Children under the age of 18 are now limited to three hours of screenplay a week, between 8pm and 9pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and an hour on holiday evenings. 

Although the new rules are strict, children in China are not unfamiliar with limits on the amount of time they can spend playing video games. In 2019, laws were passed that restricted children to 1.5 hours of online games on weekdays and 3 hours on the weekends. Despite these tight constraints, the Chinese government and parents are still concerned about the impact of internet addiction on youth and the threat this could have to the “future of the motherland”.

Online gaming has been described by Chinese newspapers as “spiritual opium” and although the new rules appear to be harsh, it is difficult to deny that Chinese children rack up an obscene amount of time playing games. A recent survey concluded that Chinese gamers played video games for longer on average per week than any other country. According to Limelight Networks, the global average is 8.5 hours per week, whilst Chinese gamers spend an average of 12.4 hours playing games. 

"Online gaming has been described by Chinese newspapers as 'spiritual opium'..."

The often under-reported issue of myopia (short-sightedness) within the Chinese youth has also been linked to the amount of time children spend staring at screens instead of playing outdoors. Official statistics have shown that over half of Chinese children suffer from myopia and these rates appear to be on the rise. In 2018, President Xi Jinping asserted that this was “a major issue related to the future of the country that we must attach great importance to and not allow to develop”.

The government plan is to enforce the new restrictions by requiring gaming platforms to ask for real names upon registration. Tech giants such as Tencent are already on board in attempts to curb video-game addiction, implementing the “Midnight Patrol'' facial recognition system on 5 July 2021 in over 60 mobile games. This included the extremely popular Honor of Kings, in which the highly addictive screenplay attracts an average of over 100 million players per day. 

"Tech giants are already on board in attempts to curb video-game addiction, implementing the “Midnight Patrol'' facial recognition system..."

Due to the restrictions already in place for children before the announcement on 30 August, the impact on gaming stocks was fairly mild. Tencent has already declared that players under the age of 16 account for a mere 2.6% of their revenue from Chinese gamers. There is, however, a growing concern that the industry will feel the effects in the next decade as future generations are subject to harsh new regulations. 

Although the ban will undoubtedly have some impact on the amount of time children spend in front of the screen, the online world will always find ways to adapt to restrictions. Experts have already warned that children are smart and will find ways to thwart the rules, including using their sibling's accounts and discovering ways to fool the facial recognition systems. Some Chinese youth have already spoken out about their use of boosters, which are similar to VPNs and connect Chinese gamers to overseas servers, allowing them access to titles that have been banned in China. 

Even without gaming, there are plenty of other internet temptations waiting to lure children in. We Are Social, a social media agency, has suggested that Chinese people regularly spend over five hours a day online, two of which is spent on social media. 

The restrictions have been applauded by parents across the globe, however, some Chinese parents are sceptical about whether less screen time will improve grades. Liu Yanbin, mother of a nine year-old daughter in Shanghai declared that, “as long as children don’t want to study, they will find some way to play". 16-year-old Jiang from Beijing spends four hours per day playing games to socialise with friends, however he already understands that his studies should be prioritised to obtain a good standard of higher education.   

“As long as children don’t want to study, they will find some way to play.”

In order to reduce hours spent online, parents must take more responsibility in limiting screen time. This could be done by educating parents on how the games are designed to attract youths or advising them to encourage their children to cultivate hobbies such as sports or learning how to play musical instruments. 

Despite the negative associations linked to gaming, there are actually some benefits to children spending time online. Gaming has been known to improve reading, problem-solving and visual-spatial skills, and it is also a great way for youths to stay connected to their friends.

In a state dominated by online gaming, China’s crackdown is certainly a step in the right direction to limiting screenplay. It is clear, however, that this will not be a simple solution to the problem and if children want to spend time playing online, they will find a way to thwart the system. 


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