Sat, Sep 01, 2018 - Page 5 News List

China tightens grip on online games

VISION, VIOLENCE:The Chinese Ministry of Education said that it would regulate the number of games that can be played online and explore age-restriction rules

AFP, SHANGHAI

A student uses a computer during an e-sports class at a school in Jinan, Shandong Province, China, on Jan. 29.

Photo: AFP

China is to restrict the number of video games and take steps to curb playing time by minors to address growing rates of childhood visual impairment.

A statement posted on the Chinese Ministry of Education’s Web site late on Thursday said the new curbs were a means to counter worsening nearsightedness among minors after Chinese President Xi Jinping (習金平) earlier this week called for greater national attention on optical health.

However, the move adds to perceptions that there is a broader campaign to rein in China’s fast-growing video game sub-culture after authorities made clear their concerns over gaming addiction and the violent content of many titles.

The ministry statement, also endorsed by seven other ministries, said it would “implement regulations and controls” on the number of games that can be played online, limit new releases, explore an age-restriction system for games and take steps to reduce playing time by minors.

No specifics or timeframe were given.

Shares in Internet giant Tencent, China’s games leader, dropped by more than 5 percent in Hong Kong, while Perfect World Co, a game developer formerly listed on the US NASDAQ exchange, fell as much as 9 percent in Shenzhen. Several other smaller game developers also plunged on Shenzhen’s tech-heavy exchange.

Chinese official studies and media reports have warned of growing rates of nearsightedness, or myopia, and among increasingly younger children. Excessive screen time and strict school study routines are often blamed.

A national vision report in 2015 said that about 500 million Chinese — nearly half the population above five years old — have visual impairment, with 450 million nearsighted.

Rates were rising, it said.

It estimated visual impairment issues cost China about US$100 billion in 2012.

However, visual concerns are just the latest reason given for an apparent campaign to put the brakes on wildly popular digital gaming.

The industry was rattled earlier this month when Tencent said it was ordered to pull the hit game Monster Hunter: World from sale, just days after it debuted.

The government’s online list of approved new titles has not been updated since May. Previously, the list had been updated regularly.

Shortly after Tencent’s Monster Hunt announcement, Bloomberg News reported that China had indeed put a halt to new approvals.

Quoting unnamed sources, it said approvals for online, console and mobile games have been stalled for months.

Chinese media blamed the hold-up on personnel changes arising from Xi’s consolidation of power at a Chinese Communist Party leadership meeting late last year, which has made him the most powerful leader since Mao Zedong (毛澤東).

However, regulators also have balked at approving games featuring violence and gambling, Bloomberg quoted a source as saying, as Xi pushes a “purification” campaign to purge media and entertainment of content perceived as unsavory.

China is the world’s largest gaming market, with an estimated US$37.9 billion in revenue, according to industry tracker Newzoo, but concerns over objectionable content and addiction have fueled growing scrutiny.

Tencent last year began restricting daily playing times for minors on its smash hit King of Glory mobile multiplayer battle game.

Official warnings over the dangers, and calls for tighter regulation, seemed to gain pace after Chinese media in February reported that a 15-year-old game-addicted boy in central China bludgeoned and strangled a woman to death.

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