I went to China a couple of years ago to volunteer with the running of a youth English camp. We (the teachers) liked to head out to a net cafe (or in Mandarin, wanban) every now and then to play some games. Counterstrike, Starcraft, C&C Generals, that kind of thing. It was a nice way to relax.
One day, one of the senior leaders at the school found out that we were going to the net cafe. I wasn’t there at the time, but for this particular incident, some students tagged along. Class ended early that day for this class because so few students showed up. So they went to a net cafe. They got a big lecture. A BIG lecture. :) The school was trying to discourage net cafes among students because it led to poor grades, behaviour, etc. OK, I heard the argument hundreds of times before, easy enough to swallow, especially since it wasn’t a big deal.
Recent news over the past few months has shown that it is a big deal. In fact, the latest steps are for the Chinese government to actually regulate the way games are played in the country. Crazy.
Under the system, known as the “anti-online game addiction system”, the first 3 hours of play for each day is considered “healthy”, during which players will be awarded full points in the virtual world. The next 2 hours will yield only half the normal points and there will be no points after 5 hours.
After the 5-hour limit, players will be subjected every 15 minutes to the warning: “You have entered unhealthy game time, please go offline immediately to rest. If you do not, your health will be damaged and your points will be cut to zero.”
That’s pretty extreme. These warnings are supposed to be incorporated into actual games for them to be playable in China, but only applicable to youths younger than 18. Age-tracking would be done through registration mechanisms that incorporate identity cards. It’d sort of be like the paradigm shift when health warning labels became mandatory by law on cigarette packages.
Now I’ll be the first to admit that gaming can at times have an addicting quality to them. I visited a friend in Colorado once, supposed to get a good night’s sleep so that we’d be ready to tour around the entire day. He told me about his new 007 Nightfire game, and I tried it out. He walked into the room in the morning to wake me up, and I was still playing. Whoops, where did the time go? Hehe, I just couldn’t drop it. And let’s not forget that EverQuest got the name EverCrack for good reason. It still happens with WoW. A friend of mine would frequently stay up all night playing, even though he would have work the next day.
This is an interesting solution, but I’m a little wary of the Big Brother ramifications that could crop up. Tracking players by their real names and ID cards? And besides that, I think parents need to play a bigger role than they’re currently playing. Firstly to bring kids up so that they can see what’s important in life, and when entertainment stops being entertainment. Secondly, to inspire interests in kids that can be substitutes for gaming, which in turn would help them seek out friends that also have similar non-gaming interests. I like to play an online game as much as anybody else, but there does come a point at which going out for some basketball or soccer is more interesting. I never would have thought that way if my parents hadn’t enrolled me in local leagues when I was younger. Governments should focus on providing alternatives to gaming and making them more attractive than gaming, not restricting gaming.