Xinhua News Agency, the media arm of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), announced further restrictions on youth gaming last week, according to tech magazine Wired.
The New York Times reports that the punitive new regulations limit gaming for people under 18 to between 8 and 9 p.m., with access only allowed on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and national holidays. The law builds upon a 2019 ban that restricted gaming for more than an hour and a half each day – playing games was banned from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.
Restricting access during certain hours is feasible as most Chinese gaming sites require unique IDs to consume content, allowing the government to track users and cut access when the time limit has been reached. While Wired reports that some Chinese teens remain optimistic that they can continue to utilize VPN-like boosters to circumvent the regulations, the government has vowed to ramp up enforcement measures with significant parental support.
These tightened rules follow a recent push by President Xi Jinping and the Chinese government to curb what they see as a pervasive internet addiction in the country, especially amongst those under the age of 18. The government reasserted its belief that the Communist state knows what is best for Chinese children by citing “widespread concern” about gaming among parents.
The Chinese government has a history of asserting control over video game companies. A 2018 measure halted the approval of new video games, citing high rates of nearsightedness among Chinese minors as justification. Yet some experts, according to The Associated Press, believe that the Chinese government is paying increased attention to the gaming industry to maintain control over free speech rather than to keep children safe. Online chat rooms and headset-enabled monitor games serve as a space for users to communicate outside of the reach of government censorship.
Officials also fear that open internet access will distract from the Marxist messages of the party and diminish productivity in an already shrinking workforce. This follows reports that the CCP is cracking down on dissent within both the entertainment industry and the internet in a “national rejuvenation” of communist values. The Associated Press reports that leading actors and celebrities such as actresses Zheng Shuang and Zhao Wei have faced fines and censorship as the government attempts to promote positive social influences and reassert control over a burgeoning entertainment industry.
While video game stocks took only a slight dip when the news was announced, the ban will likely have long-term ramifications for the gaming industry. 110 million of the country’s 743.5 million video game players are minors, according to research firm Niko Partners. While users under the age of 18 do not currently generate much revenue, a lessened recognition of video games as a form of entertainment will likely prove devastating in ten to 15 years as users age out of regulations. The CCP, in strengthening already-existing rules, has crippled an entertainment industry that generates hundreds of billions of dollars a year, creating long-term effects that may be felt for years to come.