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 Monday 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 younger will be able to play for just an hour a day and will be barred from playing between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m. Teens ages 13 to 18 will be allowed to play two hours a day.
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.” The company said it has also been testing facial-recognition technology.
The company said it will apply the restrictions to nine other popular games before the end of the year. All of its games will be covered in 2019.
Regulators in China have taken aim at the gaming industry over the past year in an effort to address gaming addiction and rampant nearsightedness. 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, Tencent’s market value has fallen $250 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 Newzoo. But in the WeChat post, the company said it had a responsibility to combat gaming addiction and said it will 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 Organization 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 percent 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 United States. 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 United States. 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 U.S. 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.