The Chinese government have decided to limit online video game use to three hours per week for those under 18, addressing concerns of mental and physical addiction to what they refer to as “spiritual opium”.
According to China’s National Press and Publication Administration (NPPA), those under 18 will now need to register with their identity cards before logging onto games such as Fortnite or League of Legends, at which time a countdown of three hours will begin. This is meant to only affect online video games and will only address violations on a company level, not individual gamers.
The ruling comes at the tail end of recent crackdowns on video games, not only from within China. For example, there have been global efforts to regulate the so-called loot boxes in video games due to their resemblance to the gambling industry, implementing tactics that can be seen to make gambling enthusiasts out of children.
Loot boxes are an online video game feature that, for a price, allows players to enter into what I would describe as a lottery of in-game prizes, such as a special sword or outfit, that may or may not be worth the price a gamer paid to enter. In other words, if I paid five euros to enter this lottery, I could maybe receive something worth those 5 euros, but I might not. This can be viewed as gambling and promotes the continued participation of its players, including children, with the hope that they might one day receive a valuable item. These accusations are being backed by concerned parents whose children have spent hundreds of euros on gaming mechanics that don’t necessarily reward the customer with anything of value.
Such concerns are quite well-founded and not without precedent, but the question is whether China’s ruling will really promote healthy social interaction in a time when human contact is being restricted and discouraged. Recent studies found that during the Covid-19 pandemic, video games, especially online ones, helped adults and children communicate and socialize with others in their community and around the world. While Gen Z has the biggest percentage of gamers, the gaming community has seen a surprising number of adults turn towards gaming to cope with the lack of human contact, validating online gaming as a proper form of social interaction.
This recent influx has been reflected and felt in the billion-dollar industry that is gaming, growing a staggering 39% during the pandemic and reaching a global market value of 155.89bn US dollars in 2020, according to Statista. There are of course serious issues that society must first contend with as video gaming becomes more and more mainstream, including but not limited to potential issues with eyesight, and overall detachment from physical interaction.
The question I pose is this: is there an advantage in limiting online video game usage when it has proved to be such a useful tool in combating solitude?
You tell me.