China restricts kids’ online video game access to 3 hours per week

The country’s battle against its so-called “spiritual opium” continues to gather strength.

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The Chinese government recently announced a new, three-hour-per-week limit on how long children can play online video games — one of the country’s most restrictive measures yet in its war against what state media declared a “spiritual opium” earlier this month. According to China’s state news agency, Xinhua, tech giants like Tencent can only allow minors on their platforms between 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays, weekends, and public holidays. Since 2019, underage gamers in China were only allowed 1.5 hours per day.

Critics were quick to point out this is more a means for the Chinese government to direct and control its tech industry than it is a protection of underage gamers. Although Reuters cites Chinese state media’s estimates that “62.5% of Chinese minors often play games online, and 13.2% of underage mobile game users play mobile games for more than two hours a day on working days,” Tencent has responded by alleging only around 3% of its profits come from minors’ in-game transactions. It’s also unclear just how easily Chinese officials will be able to enforce the law given workarounds like parents’ logins and accounts using false information.

Other changes bundled into the announcement — China’s new time restriction might be its most draconian yet, but it wasn’t the only new reform announced on Monday by the nation’s government. In addition to the three-hours-per-week rule, all online games must now be linked to a “state anti-gaming addition system” based on real-name registrations while companies must also restrict in-game purchase methods. Finally, regulators will supposedly work further with parents and schools to help curb video game addiction.

Stringent restrictions are already in place — While this marks only the latest in a long, increasingly harsh restrictions from the Chinese government, companies overseas have also been instituting their own age-based hurdles for some time now.

Back at the beginning of July, Tencent (publisher of the world’s most popular multiplayer online battle arena game, Honor of Kings) announced a new policy involving facial recognition technology to scan users and determine their age in a bid to curb late-night underage gaming.

Add that to the news that Chinese businesses and prisons are using similar tech to “read” people’s emotions, and it makes for an increasingly creepy, invasive surveillance state that doesn’t show any signs of slowing down it’s attempts to not only rein-in tech companies, but exert ever greater control over citizens.