China recently announced a strict law on the number of hours allowed for playing online video games for those under the age of 18. According to the new law, the maximum limit is 3 hours per week — during weekends only and from 8-9 pm.
Why all this protection? And what are its justifications?
Let’s start with China’s population, which is about 1.5 billion, and 18% of them are under the age of 16. That roughly acounts for 270 million people.
Two years ago, online video games were banned from 10pm to 8am and limited to a maximum of 3 hours per day in China. Then the number of hours were reduced to 1.5 hours per day and 3 hours on weekends. Now the new law prohibits playing during weekdays. A total of 3 hours are allowed during the weekend.
After the issuance of the law, all video companies operating in the Chinese market are required to use real names of the subscribers and verify their ages after the subscribers register according to their official identities.
An ideal environment
The Chinese government has also called on families, schools and other sectors of society to create an ideal environment for the healthy growth of minors, which is a shared responsibility of all parties that have guardianship over this age group.
Pertinently, the size of the video game market in the world reached $160 billion towards the end of 2020, which is greater than the film and music industries combined. The growth of video game sales is expected to reach a whopping $270 billion by 2025. Today, nearly 40% of total sales are concentrated in the East and Southeast Asia and India, including China, where the online video game market has reached $40 billion.
Addiction to video games is not only a Chinese problem, but a global one. The World Health Organisation has described this addiction as a “health and psychological condition and a major issue that threatens public health.” Today, we find specialised clinics to treat those diagnosed as “video game addicts.”
In the United States of America, the Harvard Medical School website indicates that half of Americans play video games and 20% of gamers are under the age of 18. In addition, the American Psychological Association confirms that addiction to these games causes insomnia, anxiety, depression, introversion and aggressive behaviour.
A dangerous obsession
In addition to the mental illnesses mentioned, there are physical and intellectual problems that make the issue more dangerous. The high rate of obesity among children, due to the lack of movement while playing in front of screens, has serious consequences if left untreated.
As for the intellectual effects, they come from the fact that some games promote extremist ideas. The makers of these games deliberately use symbols and historical events, and carry in their essence an idea that encourages the rejection of the other because of their different beliefs.
Not only that, but some video games call for the necessity of fighting the different other under dangerous pretexts, and in this environment some are lured after reprogramming their brain. In this struggle from the virtual world to the real world, innocent minds suffer and some get swayed by extremist instincts.
Entertainment as part of education
Thankfully the world agrees on the dangers of this new addiction, but the policies of countries to confront it differ. While China’s policies vis-a-vis online gaming has hardened, its neighbour South Korea had a different vision. Its government recently cancelled a law limiting the number of hours of video games for minors, and left the matter to the parents, who are the ones who determine the number of hours that their children spend in front of video game screens.
Entertainment is part of education, and in the present world it comes across as natural for kids because their lives in the virtual world are a reality that cannot be completely ignored. The problem is moderating the online time-spent.
Wasting hours playing video games can have psychological, physical and intellectual effects that may negatively affect behaviour and health of children and young adults. This also makes them less competitive when it comes to entering and succeeding in the future labour market.
As adults we have a duty to factor these things in and convince our kids about the pros and cons of video games. The future generation needs to understand that life is a healthy combination of work and play.
Ali Al Ahmad is a UAE diplomat