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Twitter is abuzz with news regarding China’s war on gaming. The announcement came from the National Press and Publication Administration (NPPA), a government regulator under the direct control of the Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party (PDCCP). Anyone under the age of 18 will be limited by law to three hours of gaming a week. The new restrictions follow the trend of recent tech crackdowns currently taking place in China, dealing a devastating blow to video game companies worldwide and drawing reactions from thousands on Twitter and other social media sites.
Earlier in August, state-run media outlet Xinhua criticized video games as “spiritual opium,” hinting at future repercussions for the country’s massive video game industry. The comparison to opium follows the usual trend of Chinese propaganda referencing the country’s century of humiliation, a term describing China’s decline from the First Opium War in 1839 until the formation of the People’s Republic of China. The reference to opium is more than just hyperbole; it’s a crafty way for the government to encourage discipline among Chinese citizens to ensure that the country is never “humiliated” again.
In recent years, China has been the largest prize for video game developers, all eager to tap into a market with over 665 million players spending more than $40 billion each year. Depictions of skeletons, the Chinese military, Chinese history, and the autonomy of Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Tibet have led the Chinese Ministry of Culture to censor various video games for depicting the country in an unfavorable light, and hundreds of American gamers on Twitter and Reddit welcomed news of the latest restrictions. These people had often criticized American video game corporations’ kowtowing to the Chinese government for favorable access to its market, seeing the latest reports as a comeuppance for companies like Activision Blizzard.
Describing video games as “spiritual opium” is not too far from the truth, especially in China. Images from internet cafés showing hordes of young adults cooped up in these dens playing for hours on end evoke a strong response from other players. This notoriety has caused many people to applaud the Chinese government for supposedly prioritizing the health of the country’s children, though others have argued that parents could have controlled the behavior without the need of a government mandate. In the United States, 227 million people play video games of some form, sparking debate here over the potential damage caused by excessive gaming. Even in America, attempts to regulate or censor violent video games have occurred, with most complaints being directed towards the violence in some games being shown to minors.
The effects of the new policy will likely heavily impact the existing video game infrastructure in the country and throughout all of Asia. Video games have created numerous celebrities in China, and various multimillion-dollar corporations will likely feel increased pressure from the government to avoid promoting their merchandise to Chinese youth. Chinese-affiliated businesses have already announced their intention to comply with the latest rules, waving away the existing impact of their games on minors. The latest regulations demonstrate the Chinese government’s obsession with bolstering the intellectual ability of its youth past Western rivals. Earlier in February, the government had already made public its intentions to make boys more “manly.” This latest move may just be the next step in the government’s plan to surpass the West – through any means possible.