Why the industry should heed China’s crackdown on video game players | Alex hern

BBeing a parent can sometimes feel like you run an authoritarian nation. You control what your subject can read, who they can talk to, and what they can do; you face periodic revolts against your power and occasionally engage in sham democratic decision-making knowing that you are in control of the outcome.

But for all that authoritarian rulers like to portray themselves as a parenting figure for the country as a whole, it is rare that they actually get involved in the day-to-day work of parenting. That’s why the news that China is committing to limit play time has caught the attention of so many parents I know.

According to state news outlets, online gaming companies will be required to limit those under the age of 18 to just three hours of play per week, between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The regulation has teeth: Companies will need to make sure they put real name verification systems in place or go further and take inspiration from companies such as Tencent, which recently implemented a recognition system. facial that asks users to perform in front of the camera to prove they are over 18.

The Chinese state has shown growing opposition to video games in recent years. Tencent’s age verification system was not implemented out of the company’s kindness of heart, and last month, a state media editorial attacked the game industry for peddling “d ‘ spiritual opium ”. But even in this context, the limits seem excessive. Shares of major game companies such as NetEase plummeted, as commentators around the world predicted the effects would do as much to trigger a new generation of teenage hackers, adept at circumventing technical blocks, as they would to encourage. children to get out of the house and take on more productive hobbies.

At the same time, I know some western parents have found themselves looking at the new rules with nostalgia. Putting limits on surly kids is difficult and being able – honestly – to tell a child to stop playing video games on a weekday evening because it’s against the law can sometimes make it look like it would. super parenting power rather than just cajoling, pleading, or threatening.

Ultimately, the Chinese state and British parents are tackling the same beast: a gaming industry that over the past 40 years has refined its product for purposes so fine that it is sometimes plausible to talk about the exit using the language of dependency and compulsion. . I’m a huge gaming fan, but even I feel awkward looking at the business models – and revenues – of some of the biggest players in the industry.

From the Hearthstone Trading Card Game to Zelda-esque coup Genshin Impact, a blockbuster made in China on both sides of the great firewall, it’s all too common for the games to be free, attracting huge audiences, and then funded by what is actually a casino. Even games without this fundamentally exploitative foundation can be too manipulative. Daily and weekly quests to use or lose, login rewards for continuous play streaks, season passes that require a player to earn enough playtime over a few months to unlock everything: all are practices that create habits that are explicitly designed to replace a player’s feeling of what a normal amount of play actually is.

Understanding of regulation in the video game world was shaped by deadly conflicts in the 1990s and 2000s over whether violent games produced violent children. As obvious moral panic as one can ever see, the experience has taught too many people in the industry that any concerns about its effects on children are overblown and that all regulatory approaches must be fought hard and fast. nails.

Western countries will not follow China’s lead too closely, and as much as some Western parents might wish, such a strict restriction would be a hard sell in a youthful culture where games have a much stronger hold on attention than anything as mundane as broadcasting television or music radio. But the fact that so many people are gazing at this prospect with green eyes should give developers around the world some thought.

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