HONG KONG (AP) — As China’s week-long Lunar New Year festivities approach with promises of feasting and red envelopes stuffed with cash, kids have something else to look forward to: an extra hour of online gaming. every day.
For years, Chinese authorities have tried to control how much time children can spend playing games online, to combat “Internet addiction.” They have claimed success in curbing the problem, but they are taking no chances.
In 2019, the authorities restricted minors to play 90 minutes a day from Monday to Friday and prohibited them from playing between 10 pm and 8 am. Friday, weekends and holidays. Game approvals were halted for eight months.
The Lunar New Year holiday from January 21 to 27, China’s biggest festival, will give you an extra four days to play online.
Many parents have praised the restrictions, even when their children threw tantrums. Social networking and gaming companies have established or strengthened “youth mode” settings in their apps to protect minors. They include features that limit usage, control payments, and display age-appropriate content. For some popular games, real name registration and even facial recognition gateways have been implemented to avoid workarounds.
In November, more than a year after the stricter gaming controls were introduced, a government-affiliated industry group, the Game Industry Group Committee, issued a report stating that the problem of gaming addiction among minors was “basically resolved,” even as the weekly three-hour limit for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday remained in place.
Overall, according to the Game Industry Group report, more than 75% of minors in China played online games for less than three hours a week, and most parents expressed satisfaction with the new restrictions.
A report by gaming market intelligence firm Niko Partners in September found that the number of young gamers dropped to 82.6 million in 2022 from its peak of 122 million in 2020 as a direct result of China’s regulations.
Beijing resident Zhong Feifei said her 11-year-old daughter has spent less time at the games since the restrictions came into effect. “My daughter stopped playing online games during the forbidden time”
Zhang has encouraged her daughter to play with other children or spend time with other activities.
“Even during the holidays, he doesn’t spend too much time playing anymore because he has found something else to do, like playing with our dog or other toys,” she said.
The Game Industry Group report says the “biggest loophole” in gaming restrictions is parents helping their children bypass controls. The harsh restrictions have also spawned an underground market where minors can buy unsupervised “cracked” games or rent adult game accounts.
Zhong also enjoys playing online games, but said she avoids doing it when she is with her son and leaves the house to play to try to set a good example.
Parents are the most important factor when it comes to curbing gaming addiction, said Tao Ran, director of the Adolescent Psychological Development Base in Beijing, which specializes in treating the problem.
Tao’s estimates that restrictions and “youth mode” settings on apps have helped counter online gaming addiction among younger children, who may not know how to find workarounds. Children in middle or high school tend to be more resourceful and often find ways around restrictions. That could mean convincing their parents to let them use their accounts or discovering passcodes to turn off “teenager mode.”
With so many people stuck at home during the pandemic, children were spending huge amounts of money online, Tao noted.
“The pandemic has contributed to more internet addiction, I have not seen a reduction in the number of children being sent to our addiction curb center each month,” said Tao, whose center treats an average of 20 children with addiction. serious internet. each month.
“For many of these children with gaming addictions, we found that their parents play games frequently,” Tao said. “So these kids look at their parents and think it’s okay to spend a lot of time playing because their parents do too.”
With the crackdown easing, regulators have resumed approving new games.
In February, NetEase, the country’s second-largest gaming firm, received a license for Fantasy Life, a role-playing simulation game from Nintendo. However, the company’s partnership with Activision Blizzard will end on January 23, which will see blockbuster titles like Overwatch and World of Warcraft removed from the Chinese market until Blizzard finds a new domestic partner to publish its games.
December brought the green lights for the first batch of imported games in 18 months, with China’s biggest gaming firm Tencent receiving approvals for Riot Games’ tactical shooter Valorant and online multiplayer arena battle arena game Pokémon. Unite.
Not all parents agree with the government’s heavy-handed approach.
Huang Yan, a mother of a 12-year-old girl and a 7-year-old boy in Beijing, said online games can foster teamwork and help children make friends.
“I am not against minors having access to the internet, games or social networks, since this is a general trend and it is impossible to stop them,” he said. “It is better to let them face these activities and intervene appropriately if they cannot control themselves and direct them towards other interests.”
AP news assistant Yu Bing in Beijing contributed to this report.