Chinese Government Limiting Gamers to 90 Minutes a Day, Imposing Video Game Curfew

The Chinese government announced on Tuesday a curfew on gaming as part of a policy initiative meant to prevent minors from "indulging in online games."

The new measures include a ban, for those under 18, on online video gaming between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m., in addition to a total daily limit of 90 minutes of online play, or three hours on national holidays. The directives also target micro-transactions, capping monthly expenditures on in-game items and perks at approximately $28 and $57 thresholds, depending on age.

The new prohibitions also extend to the full gaming market in China, targeting games that feature "sexual explicitness, goriness, violence and gambling."

"While satisfying the needs of the people for leisure and entertainment and enriching the people's spiritual and cultural life, some minors are addicted to games and excessive consumption, which are worthy of high attention," said a representative from the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP), a censorship agency subordinate to the Chinese Communist Party's publicity department.

"These problems affect the physical and mental health and normal learning and life of minors," the unnamed representative said in an interview with the Xinhua News Agency.

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Students in an esports class at the Lanxiang technical school in China's Shandong province. GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images

To enforce the new measures, China will require gamers to register their online games accounts using their name and phone number—banning the common practice of using a parent's identification—to enable tighter government oversight.

But while most of the new measures focus on restricting the behavior of individual gamers, China also plans increased regulation of the gaming industry. In addition to the announced content restrictions, the government is pushing game companies to provide guidelines for parents and teachers. This will extend to improving the government's capacity to track individual gamers across platforms and games so as to counteract workarounds minors could use to play beyond the curfew or hourly restrictions.

It's unclear how these new rules, particularly those limiting game time, will be enforced with single-player games. But game developers increasingly require a persistent internet connection for playing even their single-player titles, which will likely aid the Chinese government in its enforcement efforts across all games and platforms.

The same unnamed official said the time-limiting stipulations were created "mainly from the perspective of rational allocation of minors' daily work and rest time, in addition to normal sleep, study, meal and cultural and sports activities."

While social control is the primary function of the Chinese video game policies, science is also used as justification for the new restrictions. GAPP cites "physical and mental health," "normal learning" and "relevant research" in support of the measures. But empirical research into video gaming behavior only partially backs up the Chinese government's position.

In September 2018, the World Health Organization recognized "Gaming Disorder," which is described as "a pattern of gaming behavior" that impairs "personal, family, social, educational, occupation or other important areas of functioning," an echo of GAPP's rationale. Several countries have opened treatment clinics and programs focused on gaming addiction, though none have adopted China's direct restrictions on consumer behavior.

But current research suggesting that gaming addiction as a medical condition is rare. Studies from the American Psychiatric Association and the National Institutes of Health found a .3 to 3 percent prevalence of disordered gaming addiction—half, or less than half, of the prevalence of addictive behavior among online gamblers. And while studies probing the connection between video gaming and violence have repeatedly found increased aggression immediately after playing, there has been no consensus on long-term effects.

Still, these new restrictions hew slightly closer to current research than the government's anti-video-game measures in 2018. That crackdown put partial blame for the 500 million Chinese with visual impairments—nearsightedness in particular—on the gaming industry, despite a 20-year, comprehensive study finding no connection between screen time and myopia in children.

Since video game research is still in its infancy—regularly providing wildly disparate results, depending on multiple variables—crafting top-down social policy has little to do with empiricism. This may partially explain why Chinese press releases justifying the new policies cited no specific research.

Chinese Government Limiting Gamers to 90 Minutes a Day, Imposing Video Game Curfew | Gaming