China is making moves to restrict the amount of time kids can spend playing online video games in a bid to curb online gaming addiction among minors.
Online game providers, like Tencent and NetEase, will only be allowed to offer one-hour services to children between 8 pm and 9 pm on Fridays, weekends, and official holidays, according to the document published by China's National Press and Publication Administration, reported by news agency Xinhua. The new measure will also require all users to sign in with their real names rather than online avatars.
With almost 665 million players spending over 278 billion yuan ($43 billion) on video games each year, China is the biggest market for video games in the world. While it’s hard to find statistics on video game addiction in the country, authorities have frequently raised the topic as a cause for concern.
China introduced a policy in 2019 that limits under-18s to less than 90 minutes of video games time on weekdays and three hours on weekends, as well as a total ban of under-18s playing online between 10 pm and 8 am.
Some people suspected that stricter measures were in the works after a state-owned Chinese newspaper criticized online gaming as “opium for the mind” earlier this month. The issue of video game addiction was also recently brought up at this year’s meeting of China’s National People’s Congress. Leading party members discussed ways of tightening gaming regulations, with some calling for a ban on celebrity endorsements and limiting the number of advertising for games.
The World Health Organization officially recognized video game addiction as a disorder in 2018, describe it as a “pattern of gaming behavior characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”
Branding video games with this label and “pathologizing players” has proved controversial among certain experts, with some arguing there's not yet enough high-quality, long-term evidence to conclude whether it is a medical disorder akin to gambling addiction or drug addiction. However, there is some good evidence that clinically significant gaming problems are a thing and could be on the rise.
One scientific study from 2020 found that the vast majority of people (around 90 percent) don’t play video games in a way that is harmful, but a significant minority can become truly addicted in a way that negatively affects their life. However, it's worth noting that many scientific studies have also made it clear that violent video games do not give rise to violent behavior and, in fact, playing video games in moderation could actually make you perform better at cognitive tasks.