- China has implemented a law to restrict gaming time for minors to 3 hours a week, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, between 8 and 9pm.
- China instructed gaming companies to prevent children playing outside these times, and the government will be tracking how well game companies are enforcing this.
- This extreme level of restriction and intervention will not only be very difficult to enforce, but it does not take into consideration the young gamer's motivation to play.
Is there precedent for this?
With China's extreme move grabbing a lot of attention, it's important to put their decision into context. Back in November 2019, China implemented a rule of a maximum of 90min per day until 10pm during weekdays, and weekends would allow minors to play for 3 hour sessions. This was their attempt to curb video game addiction. Game developers at Tencent rolled out facial recognition software in an attempt to track and limit the gameplay. If you go back further, South Korea implemented the "Cinderella law", which shut down gaming for children under 16 from midnight until 6am, back in 2011. This new move by China to restrict gaming to 3 hours a week is very extreme, even compared to these two examples. What's interesting is that South Korea has just announced that they will be abolishing the Cinderella law and replacing it with an updated version of the "choice permit" that has allowed parents to have input on playing times. While South Korea takes a step back from what many would argue is a parental role, China is doubling down in an effort to gain control.
Is this the right move?
Ultimately, this will not be a sustainable approach to addressing problematic gaming, because the most important factor is being left out of the equation: The individual. I can understand why government officials, who I doubt are comprised of people who really understand or play video games themselves, might think that this is a good idea. It's because when we don't understand the nuance of something complex, we tend to turn toward oversimplified logic, such as: If A then B - "My child struggles to control their video game play, therefore the games must be addictive." If only life were that simple.
Motivation is the key to understanding why gaming can be a healthy or unhealthy hobby.
- Are they playing to escape stress from their real life or their mental health?
- Are they playing esports because they have the drive to compete, but perhaps don't relate to traditional sports as a way to fulfill that drive?
- Are they immersed in a story where they have control over the choices that the protagonist makes?
- Are they mastering complex patterns set to music in pursuit of perfection or a high score?
- Are they trying to meet all these kinds of motivational needs in game because achieving these things in real life is proving difficult?
This is only scratching the surface. Once you've identified all of these factors and many other more subtle ones, you have to consider the specific games being played, and decide how compulsive their design truely is when compared to other games. At that point, you can ask how vulnerable the young person is to those design mechanics. Game design exists on a continuum between engagement and compulsion. It's certainly not one size fits all.
Until you can completely identify what motivates a gamer to play in a problematic way, you will be in the dark about how to help them achieve a balance.
I am aware that by not living in China myself, I may not understand the cultural zeitgeist there. Still, I would argue that the fundamentals of wellbeing will are constant, and a better approach to this problem will always be empowering these families and communities with the knowledege and the strategies that will plant the seeds to self regulation. It's not an easy task, but it's a necessary one. There are no shortcuts to wellbeing.