China fir­ing back in video games bat­tle

The West Australian - - AGENDA -

As video games con­tinue to come un­der fire from the Chi­nese Gov­ern­ment for their ad­dic­tive­ness and health im­pli­ca­tions, one of the big­gest gam­ing com­pa­nies an­nounced this week that it is plac­ing ma­jor re­stric­tions on young play­ers, in­clud­ing ex­pand­ing its age ver­i­fi­ca­tion sys­tem and im­pos­ing lim­its on daily play as part of a new “health sys­tem”.

Shen­zhen-based Ten­cent said via WeChat that in ad­di­tion to manda­tory iden­ti­fi­ca­tion checks, play­ers age 12 and un­der would be able to play for just an hour a day and would be barred from play­ing be­tween 9pm and 8am. Teens aged 13 to 18 would be al­lowed to play two hours a day.

The com­pany said it has also been test­ing fa­cial-recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy.

Many of the re­stric­tions — in­clud­ing iden­tity ver­i­fi­ca­tion us­ing po­lice data­bases and caps on play time for younger users — have been in place since Septem­ber for one of the com­pany’s big­gest games, Hon­our of Kings.

Ten­cent said it would now ap­ply the re­stric­tions to nine other pop­u­lar games be­fore the end of the year. All of its games would be cov­ered next year.

Reg­u­la­tors in China have taken aim at the gam­ing in­dus­try over the past year in an ef­fort to ad­dress gam­ing ad­dic­tion and ram­pant near-sight­ed­ness.

The Gov­ern­ment put a freeze on ap­provals for new games in March and made poli­cies de­signed to de­crease elec­tron­ics use by young peo­ple. Ten­cent, the world’s high­est-gross­ing gam­ing com­pany, has been hit hard by the crack­down. Since a Jan­uary peak, its mar­ket value has fallen $US250 bil­lion as it loses money to reg­u­la­tory is­sues, ac­cord­ing to Bloomberg News.

Ten­cent’s gam­ing reg­u­la­tions will de­mand a ver­i­ta­ble moun­tain of work for the com­pany, which will have to check the iden­ti­ties of about 600 mil­lion Chi­nese gamers, ac­cord­ing to gam­ing an­a­lyt­ics firm New­zoo.

But in the WeChat post, the com­pany said it had a re­spon­si­bil­ity to com­bat gam­ing ad­dic­tion and said it would pur­sue more “cut­ting-edge tech­nol­ogy” to pro­tect young play­ers in the fu­ture.

While China has taken a no­tably dras­tic ap­proach, video game ad­dic­tion has gar­nered in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion and crit­i­cism lately for play­ers of all ages.

In June, the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion added video game ad­dic­tion to its In­ter­na­tional Clas­si­fi­ca­tion of Dis­eases. But the des­ig­na­tion spec­i­fies that “gam­ing dis­or­ders” — where gam­ing eclipses all other de­sires for a pe­riod of more than a year — are very rare, af­fect­ing at most 3 per cent of gamers.

The Amer­i­can Psy­chi­atric As­so­ci­a­tion iden­ti­fied In­ter­net Gam­ing Dis­or­der as an area for fur­ther study in the 2013 ver­sion of the Di­ag­nos­tic and Sta­tis­ti­cal Man­ual of Men­tal Dis­or­ders, the cen­tral re­source for iden­ti­fy­ing and di­ag­nos­ing dis­or­ders in the US. It has yet to be of­fi­cially added.

The on­line game Fort­nite, which hosts tens of mil­lions of play­ers and gen­er­ates more than $1 bil­lion in rev­enue, has been at the heart of the gam­ing ad­dic­tion de­bate in the US.

As par­ents strug­gle to man­age their chil­dren’s play­ing time, pro­fes­sional sports coaches are fac­ing a sim­i­lar bat­tle with their play­ers, wor­ry­ing that time spent play­ing video games is erod­ing the pro ath­letes’ prac­tice and sleep reg­i­mens.

There are pri­vate US fa­cil­i­ties that help re­ha­bil­i­tate gam­ing and tech­nol­ogy ad­dicts, but many say tech com­pa­nies must as­sume re­spon­si­bil­ity and change their prod­ucts to make them less addictive. Both Ap­ple and Google re­cently in­tro­duced set­tings that can track and cap us­age time.

Hon­our of Kings has al­ready been sub­ject to re­stric­tions.

Pop­u­lar video game Fort­nite.

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