by Paul Mozur and Elsie Chenow, The New York Times Company
China’s video game industry is booming. But it certainly doesn’t seem so to Stone Xi, a game designer in China.
Xi, 27, got his first job in 2018, when Beijing temporarily suspended sanctions for new games. The next year, the government imposed new limits on the playing time of minors. A few weeks ago, the rules became even stricter. Those under the age of 18 can now play for only three hours a week during scheduled times on weekends.
“We never hear any good news about the gaming industry,” Xi said. “We have this joke: ‘Every time this happens, people say it’s doomsday for the video game industry,’ so we say, ‘Every day is doomsday.'”
This is a bit of an exaggeration. Xi remains employed, and millions of Chinese continue to play the game every day. Minors still find their way around government blocks. Chinese tech companies like Tencent are the cornerstone of the global gaming industry. The country is also looking forward to adopting competitive gaming, building an esports stadium and enabling college students to become prominent in the subject.
Yet China’s relationship with sports is certainly complicated. A major source of entertainment in the country, sport provides a social outlet and an easily accessible hobby in a country where rapid economic growth has disrupted social networks and long hours. For example, the multiplayer mobile game “Honor of Kings” has over 100 million players a day.
For years, however, officials — and many parents — have worried about potential downsides like addiction and distraction. As a more patriarchal government led by Chinese leader Xi Jinping has turned to direct intervention to mold the way people live and what they do for entertainment, gaining control of video games is on the priority list. has been high. Among other activities, like celebrity fan clubs, Xi’s government increasingly regards sports as an exorbitant distraction – and at worst, a social disease that threatens the cultural and moral guidance of the Chinese Communist Party.
On social media, gamers created a ruckus about the latest rules. Some have pointed out that the age of sexual consent, at age 14, is now four years below the age at which people can play without limits. Even though minors represent a small portion of Chinese video gaming revenue, shares of game companies have declined on concerns about the long-term impact on gaming culture.
Xi said that despite the anger, gamers and the industry are becoming accustomed to the government’s demands. For most adults, the new restrictions have little effect. For companies, this is simply another barrier to entering a lucrative industry.
Many in China’s gaming industry agree that games have some drawbacks. The most popular games in the country are built for smartphones and are free to play, meaning businesses live and die for them, depending on how well they attract users and get them to pay extra. We do. Game makers have become adept at hooking players.
But top-down efforts to wean children away from sports – which state media have called “poison” and “spiritual pollution” – are sometimes worse than the problem. Boot camps fond of military discipline have proliferated. So are the abuses in the Chinese media such as abuse, beatings, electroconvulsive therapy and solitary confinement.
Even the country’s previous ban on consoles like PlayStation made things worse, Xi said. That ban helped fuel the popularity of free-to-play mobile games. Studios that sell games for consoles are driven to make high quality games, such as blockbuster movies. Not so, he said, with free-to-play games that are driven by players to get the most.
For Xi, the government’s new limits are the same as those imposed on him by his mother as he grew up. During workdays, his PlayStation 2 remained locked in a cabinet. Every disc he bought was checked. Many of them were deemed inappropriate.
When he went to college, he entered a period he called “payback,” trying to make up for the years when he had strict boundaries. Even now, he occasionally indulges in his gaming habits or spends more than that. What’s important to understand, he said, is that for a generation that grew up largely without siblings, many parents who worked late, video games created a social world beyond the pressures of school. offered a portal for
“After school, I’d finish dinner alone, and it sounds pathetic, but what made it less pathetic was my gaming friends,” he said. He recalled that when his parents used to stop him from playing games, he used to go online and watch others’ games.
“Restricting people from doing something doesn’t mean that people will do what you want them to do,” he said.
China is uniquely equipped to control the way children spend their time online. A real name registration system for phone numbers has effectively eliminated Internet anonymity. To register for anything on China’s Internet, for example, social media or gaming, you need a phone number. If a child’s identity is linked to their cellphone plan, it is easier for companies to identify them as a minor.
Still the remedy is in progress. When authorities began limiting minors’ play time in 2019, children found ways to gain access to cellular numbers associated with adults. Some will buy, some will rent. Many borrowed or borrowed the phones of their parents or grandparents. In response, Tencent is requiring facial recognition to confirm the identities of players of its most popular games.
When Chinese internet users pointed to an account this month, they said it was probably being used by minors — because it belonged to a 60-year-old man who masterminded a late-night session on “Honor of Kings.” The company issued a statement that the account has passed 17 facial recognition scans since March.
Many gamers and designers have wondered what will happen to the popular competitive gaming industry. Those in esports said the rules would probably hurt recruitment and talent development. The 30-year-old esports player and streamer, Ma Xu, said the rules could also put careers on hold.
“A talented 15-year-old will have to wait a few years to participate. The world of esports can change in a big way in two years,” she said. “Esports is a cruel world.”
Hou Xu, founder of Yizimeng Esports Training Center, said it may take some time to feel the impact of the new rules because there is already a pipeline of gamers. Hou, a 20-year veteran of the industry, said the ban was “very much one-size-fits-all”, although training was unlikely to change, as schools allow parents and 18-year-olds to ensure Athletes younger than Sufficient.
Through his school, Hou said he tries to show mostly video-game-obsessed kids, and often their parents, how difficult it is to make it into competitive gaming. Only one in his latest class of 60 got a trial at the Pro Club. He failed to get the position.
Instead of focusing his students on impossible careers as gaming stars, he tries to work with them on deeper issues. “Often, the spiritual needs of children are not met. It is easy to get a sense of accomplishment, identity and initiative in the virtual world, but they may not have that in studies or in life,” he said.
Game designer Xi said he’s already seen kids go on to other gamelike pastimes. After the ban, he met a large number of children in the store examining and painting sculptures for the strategy board game Warhammer.
“If I have kids and they have a problem with video games, I would look for something we can do together, like Warhammer, Chess, Go or Sports. They are all great alternatives to video games,” he said .
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.