HONG KONG — As China’s week-long Lunar New Year holiday approaches with promises of feasts and red envelopes stuffed with cash, kids have something else to look forward to – an extra hour of online games every day.
Only one hour.
For years, Chinese authorities have been trying to control how much time children can spend playing online games, to fight against “internet addiction.” They claimed to have solved the problem but they have no chance.
In 2019, authorities restricted minors to play 90 minutes a day during the week and prohibited them from playing between 10 pm and 8 am In 2021, they issued even stricter restrictions: Minors are not allowed games on play online only one hour a day and that’s it. Fridays, weekends and public holidays. Game permits were suspended for eight months.
The January 21-27 Lunar New Year holiday, China’s biggest festival, will give them four extra days for online gambling.
Many parents praised the restrictions, even when their children threw tantrums. Social media and game companies have established or strengthened “child mode” settings on 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 prevent problems.
In November – more than a year after the introduction of the stricter game controls – a government-affiliated industry group, the Game Industry Group Group, issued a report which declared that the problem of gambling addiction among minors was “solved basically,” even as the three times weekly. a limit for Friday, Saturday and Sunday remained in place.
Overall, the Game Industry Group report said, more than 75% of minors in China played online games for less than three times a week and most parents expressed satisfaction with the new restrictions.
A report by games market intelligence firm Niko Partners in September found that the number of youth gamers fell to 82.6 million in 2022 from its peak of 122 million in 2020 as a direct result of Chinese regulations.
Beijing resident Zhong Feifei said her 11-year-old daughter has spent less time playing games since the restrictions came into effect. “My daughter gave up playing online games during the curfew,”
Zhang has encouraged her daughter to play with other children or spend time on other activities.
“Even during the public holidays, she doesn’t spend too much time gambling anymore because she has found something else to do, like playing with our dog or other toys,” she said.
The report by the Games Industry Group said parents who help their children bypass the controls are the “biggest loophole” in gaming restrictions. The strict restrictions have also spawned an underground market where minors can buy unsupervised “cracked” games, or rent an adult game. accounts.
Zhong also likes to play online games, but she said she avoids doing so when she is with her child, leaving the house to play to set a good example.
Parents are the most important factor in curbing gambling addiction, said Tao Ran, director of the Adolescent Psychological Development Foundation in Beijing, which specializes in treating the problem.
Tao believes that the restrictions and “youth mode” settings on apps have helped combat online gaming addiction among younger children, who may not know how to find solutions. Middle or high school kids tend to be more resourceful and often find ways to overcome restrictions. That might mean convincing their parents to let them use their accounts, or finding passcodes to turn off “kids mode”.
With so many people stuck at home during the pandemic, kids were spending huge amounts online, Tao noted.
“The pandemic has contributed to more internet addiction, I have not seen any reduction in the number of minors sent to our center to curb addiction every month,” said Tao, whose center treats an average of 20 children who they are addicted to the internet. every month.
“For many of these children with gaming addictions, we see that their parents play games a lot,” Tao said. “So these kids look at their parents and think it’s okay to spend time gambling, because their parents do it too.”
With the crackdown easing, regulators have started to allow new games again.
In February, NetEase, the country’s second largest games firm, was awarded a license for Fantasy Life, a role-playing simulation game by Nintendo. However, the company’s partnership with Activision Blizzard is set to end by January 23, which will see the withdrawal of hit titles such as Overwatch and World of Warcraft from the Chinese market until Blizzard finds a new domestic partner to publish its games.
December gave the green lights for the first batch of imported games in 18 months – with China’s biggest games firm, Tencent, getting approval for Riot Games’ tactical shooter Valorant and multiplayer online 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 daughter and a 7-year-old son in Beijing, said online gaming can foster teamwork and help children make friends.
“I am not against minors accessing the internet, games or social media, because this is a complete trend and they cannot be stopped,” she said. “It is better to let them face these activities and intervene appropriately if they are not able to control themselves, and direct them towards other interests.”
AP news assistant Yu Bing in Beijing contributed to this report.
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