Explained: Why and how China is limiting online gaming for minors

Three hours a week.

That’s the absolute maximum amount of time under-18s can spend on video games in China after the country introduced a drastic new limit to combat gaming addiction.

China is the world's largest video games market and authorities here have worried for years about gaming and internet addiction among young people.

The National Press and Publication Administration - the regulator that approves video game titles said the new rules were a response to growing concern that games affected the physical and mental health of children.

According to state media about 62.5% of Chinese minors often play games online.

Rising rates of nearsightedness were cited as a concern in 2018.

Clinics have even been set up which combine therapy and military drills for those with so-called "gaming disorders".

Chinese regulators have also targeted the private tutoring industry and what they see as celebrity worship in recent weeks, citing the need to ensure the wellbeing of children.

ONLINE GAME PLAYER, MR. ZHOU: "Different people have different levels of self-control and they might have different kind of supervision from parents and cares within the society. People also have to consider complicated factors, such as the education background from school and family. This is not something they can simply control. People in the end can always play on another account or buy accounts from adults. (flash) I don't think the new regulation makes any sense. (flash) Although it aims to help teenagers, however, the less you get, the more curious you'll be."

Has this been done before?

Gaming limits aren’t a completely foreign concept in China.

In 2017, Tencent Holdings it would limit play time for some young users of its flagship mobile game "Honor of Kings" after complaints from parents and teachers that children were becoming addicted.

In 2019, Beijig passed laws limiting minors to less than 1.5 hours of online games on weekdays and three hours on weekends, as well as rules on how much minors could spend on virtual gaming items.

In July, Tencent rolled out a facial recognition function dubbed "midnight patrol" that parents can switch on 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. For example, I can imagine countries have already begun to deal with it. For example, account leasing, which means that adults rent accounts to young people, or modify mobile phones, or there will be human skin masks in the future. These are all possible. And in fact, what we see may be that parents themselves are willing to help children in the family unlock it as long as they have their permission. So this policy is certainly not a one-size-fits-all hack to kill the possibility of all young people playing games, but it can be done in general."

How will China enforce the rules?

Well - the onus sits with the gaming industry rather than individuals.

Online gaming companies must ensure they have put real name verification systems in place, and all titles will eventually need to be connected to an anti-addiction system being set up by the NPPA.

The NPPA told state news agency Xinhua it would:

- increase the frequency and intensity of inspections to ensure limits were put in place

- step up measures to punish gaming firms that violate the rules

- and increase penalties given after inspections

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