China reportedly issued new rules today forbidding minors from playing online video games more than three hours a week, while banning kids from online gaming entirely every Monday to Thursday. While some news reports say the ban applies to all video games, enforcement measures issued by the National Press and Publication Administration (NPPA) primarily target online games and online services related to gaming.
“Gaming companies will be barred from providing services to minors in any form outside the stipulated hours and must ensure they have put real-name verification systems in place, said the regulator, which oversees the country’s video games market,” a Reuters article said. “Previously, China had limited the length of time under-18s could play video games to 1.5 hours on any day and three hours on holidays under 2019 rules.”
People under 18 will reportedly be allowed to play video games only from 8pm to 9pm on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays—limiting minors to three hours most weeks and not even letting them choose which three hours. Young people are reportedly prohibited from gaming at any time from Monday to Thursday each week under the new rules, which apply to all devices, including phones.
The NPPA claimed the regulation is about “protecting the physical and mental health of minors… and relates to the cultivation of the younger generation in the era of national rejuvenation.”
Facial-recognition and other technologies could be used to prevent underage gaming. “Enforcement measures weren’t detailed, but in response to previous moves by the government to limit video game playing by young people, Tencent Holdings… has used a combination of technologies, automatically booting off players after a certain period of time and using real-name registration and facial-recognition technology to limit game play for minors,” The Wall Street Journal wrote.
The changes announced today also require online games to “be linked to a state anti-addiction system,” and government regulators “will ratchet up checks over how gaming firms carry out restrictions on things like playing time and in-game purchases,” Bloomberg wrote.
China’s government has blamed video game addiction “for a host of societal ills, including distracting young people from school and family responsibilities,” the Journal wrote. A state-run media outlet this month described online games as “opium for the mind,” and “Chinese leader Xi Jinping, too, has warned publicly in recent months about the perils of youth gaming addiction, remarks that have put more pressure on officials to act,” the article said.
While China’s new regulation is a blow to both young gamers and the country’s gaming companies, some people expect to be able to evade the age rule. On the social-network Weibo, people “expressed doubt that the restrictions could be enforced. ‘They will just use their parents’ logins, how can they control it?’ asked one,” according to Reuters.
China’s government has a long history of imposing restrictions on the video game industry. It banned most gaming consoles in 2000 and finally lifted that restriction in 2015.