China's Ruling Party Limits Underage Gamers to Three Hours' Play a Week

The move comes amid growing concerns over gaming addiction, mental and physical health and myopia.
By Xue Xiaoshan, Fong Tak Ho and Jane Tang
China's Ruling Party Limits Underage Gamers to Three Hours' Play a Week Chinese children in Shanghai play online computer games in a file photo.

Authorities in China are cracking down on widespread gaming among minors, limiting anyone under 18 to just three hours' online gaming per week, the country's press, publications, and gaming censor said in a statement.

Gaming companies have been ordered to impose strict time limits on online gaming for minors, in order to prevent them from overindulging and to protect their physical and mental health, the General Administration of Press and Publications (GAPP) said in an Aug. 30 directive on its official website.

"Online gaming companies may only provide minors with one-hour online gaming slots from 20 to 21:00 on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and statutory holidays," the order said.

The move is a drastic cut in permitted gaming time, which was set at one-and-a-half hours on all weekdays and three hours at weekends, with no gaming allowed after 10.00 p.m.

Service providers Tencent and NetEase have already set up real-name identification systems to identify minors, as well as facial recognition technology that can tell if an underage player is using an adult login.

Now, all underage users in China will be required to register with their real names, while all online games must be integrated with the GAPP's anti-addiction verification system, it said.

No users will be allowed to access online games unless they have logged in according to the new rules, it said.

GAPP officials at all levels of government have also been ordered to step up supervision and inspection of online gaming companies' performance regarding the new rules, which take effect from Sept. 1, 2021.

About 62.5 percent of Chinese minors often play games online, while 13.2 percent of underage mobile game users play mobile games for more than two hours a day on weekdays, according to state media.

Complaints of addiction

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

The authorities have also become increasingly concerned over rising rates of myopia among young people.

On Aug. 3, state media denounced online gaming as "mental opium" and "electronic drugs," naming "the Honor of Kings" as a key example.

Primary school teacher and keen gamer Yuan Changquan said the rules are somewhat draconian, however.

"It's a bit heavy-handed and simplistic to use such methods to supervise children, who should have the freedom to make their own choices," Yuan told RFA.

"Also, a lot of young people play games now because there aren't many jobs."

Crackdown success uncertain

Chongqing-based educator Meng Xing said it wasn't entirely clear whether the government would be able to implement the new rules.

"Underage people will still be able to use their parents' ID to log on," Meng said. "They tried to bring out new rules forbidding minors from logging onto live streams in the past, but hundreds of thousands of them are doing it."

"Of course they will crack down hardest on the better-known games like 'Honor of Kings," Meng said. "Whether or not they will succeed in implementing this with the lesser-known games is another matter."

Meng said the anti-gaming policy for minors was part and parcel of recent moves to abolish primary school examinations and out-of-school tutoring schools, in a bid to take the pressure off children and parents to excel, and to encourage couples to consider having more children.

"Xi Jinping has in mind a utopian ideal of the Chinese dream," U.S.-based political commentator Wang Juntao told RFA in a recent interview.

"The cream of this society are men like him and women like [his wife] Peng Liyuan," Wang said. "Everyone else is just supposed to do whatever the party tells them to do."

"Ordinary people are just cogs in the machine. They're not to play video games, but should spend the day working hard and study the party constitution in the evenings," he said.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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