In an announcement that must have struck terror into the hearts of millions of children and adolescents, the Chinese government recently implemented a new policy to restrict online games for children under 18 to just three hours per week.
While unpopular with young people as well as gaming companies, it begs the question whether other countries need to address the issue of children being increasingly consumed by online games.
The online gambling industry is huge. In 2020, the global online gaming market generated approximately $ 21.1 billion in revenue, a record growth of 21.9% from the previous year. There are around one billion online gamers in the world, over 10% of whom are Chinese children.
Online games and the platforms that support them are increasingly effective in ensuring that the eyes stay glued to screens for as long as possible. They are highly incentivized because it helps them earn money from ad revenue and in-game services. For example, Amazon-owned streaming platform Twitch has generated over $ 100 million in ad revenue in the world. Q1 2021, in part by allowing users to engage with 71 million hours of game streams per day.
Kids who might otherwise be playing outdoors and making real friends, learning a skill, such as playing an instrument or studying, play addicting online games instead.
Rapid advances in technology have made it too easy for parents and children to rely on the Internet for entertainment rather than making the effort to organize physical activity. As social networks are now deeply integrated into these games and smartphones allow instant access to technology, children’s social life is mainly limited to the various online platforms.
The problem, however, goes beyond wasting precious time that could be better spent making friends, exercising, or studying for the kids. It can cause serious health problems.
Chinese authorities have called their latest campaign a war on “electronic drugs” over concerns over the addictive nature of online gaming platforms.
The US-based rehabilitation clinic, the Addiction Center, describes how video games trigger the chemical dopamine in the same way as addictive drugs. The World Health Organization recently included gambling addiction as a disorder and estimated that 3-4% of video gamers struggle with addiction.
There are potentially tens of millions of people who suffer from gambling addiction. People with symptoms of depression are also particularly vulnerable, seeing gambling as an escape from their daily struggles.
Pay to win culture
Many platforms have gaming elements built into their systems, so online gaming addiction can have serious financial implications as well. Examples include in-game currencies that can be exchanged for real money, allowing micro-transactions in exchange for “loot boxes,” leading to a “pay-to-win” culture, where players can continue their game. progression and add character customization with cash.
Ninety-three percent of all kids play video games, but more worryingly, according to the Gamble Aware charity, up to 40 percent of those kids have opened “loot boxes” in the game. , containing random digital rewards.
So some kids may end up spending more than $ 100 a month trying to get a specific digital feature, like a new outfit for their avatar. To counter this quasi-gambling, the UK government is considering measures to control micro-gambling transactions in the same way it regulates gambling.
Addiction to online games does not only affect children, adults can also become addicted to these platforms. The Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of sciences, has published studies showing a ‘moderate to strong’ correlation between adolescents playing games with micro-transactions and then developing gambling addiction as they age. adult.
Online gambling is part of a larger challenge in the modern digital world. Recent technological advancements have made it easier for us to search for information and services, whether accessing healthcare, doing business via online video calls, or sharing and discovering gossip on social media platforms. through videos, photos, news and blogs.
It’s also intrinsic to our daily routine with many positive characteristics, but it means that we now spend most of our waking hours staring at a screen.
Price comparison site Uswitch’s studies show that on average in the UK people are digitally connected 6.4 hours a day. The numbers are even worse for people born after 1995, known as Generation Z, who consume digital media 11 hours a day, which is the majority of their waking hours.
Tackle the game
For China, the latest crackdown on playing time is an escalation of existing attempts to limit games for minors, which previously had a 90-minute cap on weekday online play time. Online games will now only be accessible to children for one hour in the evening on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and holidays. China is perhaps unique in that it has the digital infrastructure and political power to enforce this policy.
Big game companies like Tencent have a responsibility to implement the policy, including requiring users to provide their real name and age, or face the wrath of the Chinese state.
While restricting online gaming in this way is unthinkable in most countries, a larger debate about our relationship with the online world should always take place. In the UK, reviews from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) suggest that pandemic-induced lockdowns have led people to spend 71% more time playing online games.
We have to be careful not to make this problem worse in the longer term, maybe digital detox is needed. Otherwise, the consequences of inaction could be severe, especially for those born in the digital age.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.