On Monday, China issued sweeping regulations giving children under the age of 18 a three-hour window to play video games per week. Now China’s youth will be allowed to play games only between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays.
“Gaming addiction has affected studies and normal life…and many parents have become miserable,” the National Press and Publication Administration said in a statement. Earlier this month, a newspaper affiliated with China’s state-run newswire Xinhua blasted gaming companies for targeting young people, at one point describing online gaming as “spiritual opium.”
According to Global Fortune, China’s new playtime rules amount to what may be the world’s most restrictive gaming policy for children. And yet the measures, however draconian, seek to address what China’s leaders perceive to be a genuine social problem: Chinese children log inordinately long hours playing online games.
The country has over 720 million gamers, and roughly 110 million of them are under the age of 18, says Daniel Ahmad, a gaming analyst at Niko Partners.
Ahmad says it’s difficult to pinpoint how many young Chinese gamers may be addicted to video games, but it is likely a substantial portion of gamers, given the proliferation of stories in Chinese media.
Chinese state media report that 13.2 percent of China’s minors play games for over two hours a day on weekdays, amounting to tens of millions of children.
A recent survey of 4,000 video gamers over the age of 18 in eight countries showed that Chinese gamers played more hours of video games per week than any other country. Chinese gamers played an average of 12.4 hours per week, exceeding the U.S. average of 7.7 hours per week and the global average of 8.5 hours per week, according to cloud services firm Limelight Networks.
China’s government has long vacillated between propping up gaming culture and cracking down on it.
After explosive growth in gaming in the early 2010s, in 2017 China’s largest state-owned newspaper, the People’s Daily, lashed out at gaming companies including Tencent for offering “poison” to Chinese society, arguing that the games had become too addictive and distorted Chinese values.
That year the government rolled out restrictions on loot boxes, requiring companies to display odds of winning certain prizes of boxes gamers buy. In 2018, China issued a nine-month moratorium on licensing new games and cracked down on portrayals of violence in games.
In 2019, China introduced rules restricting citizens under the age of 18 to playing games for 1.5 hours per day on weekdays, three hours during weekends and holidays, and only during the daytime.
Despite the greater regulatory scrutiny, Chinese game developers boomed, thanks partly to government support.
China’s National Bureau of Statistics officially classified e-sports as a professional sport in 2019. The following year, municipal governments in Shanghai and Beijing announced subsidies and promotion campaigns to further develop e-sports in their cities.
China’s state-run broadcaster ran a six-part documentary series on e-sports in 2020, while universities across the country have rolled out electives and majors related to online gaming.
2020 was the Chinese gaming industry’s most successful year to date, and the mobile gaming market grew to Ksh.3.2 trillion (US$29.2 billion) in annual revenues, up 30.9 percent from the year earlier, according to Niko Partners.