China cuts children’s online gaming to three hours a week…

In a move that will be the envy of quite a few parents of teenage boys, China has put limits on online gaming. From the BBC report:

Online gamers under the age of 18 will only be allowed to play for an hour on Fridays, weekends and holidays, China’s video game regulator has said.

The National Press and Publication Administration told state-run news agency Xinhua that game-playing would be only allowed between 8pm to 9pm.

It also instructed gaming companies to prevent children playing outside these times.

Fears over gaming have been around since I was playing my Commodore 64 back in the 80s, and they tend to be the subject of regular moral panics. But I don’t think people realise how big gaming is these days. The gaming industry is now bigger than the video and music industry combined. Fortnite makes over $5 billion a year.

During lockdown online gaming use increased to around 18 hours a week in the UK, but I am sure we all know kids who could be gaming 5-6 hours a day easily.

I don’t think games are any worse than any other media but you can have too much of a good thing. You never see kids playing in the street these days. This is mainly due to the increase in cars but enticing screens also play a big part. Too much screen time increases obesity rates as well as having an impact on sleep levels and mental health. Screen time affects verbal and emotional development. Teenage boys have never had a great reputation for holding conversations; now the problem is even worse. Football coaches report that locker rooms are silent now as all the players are on their phones.

UK kids now have an average of over 6 hours a day of screen time. You wonder with school and sleep how that is even possible.

Where China is getting it wrong is not recognising that too much gaming is a symptom not a cause. It is very common for people to use gaming as an escape from the stresses of modern life. The school day starts in China at 7:30am and lessons can go on till 10:30pm at night. No wonder kids are stressed. From the Conversation:

Most schools start from early morning (about 7:30am) to early evening (about 6pm) with 2 hours lunch break. Many schools have evening self-study classes running from 7pm-9pm so students can finish their homework and prepare for endless tests. If schools do not run self-study evening classes, students still have to do their homework at home, usually up to 10pm. On average, at primary school pupils spend about seven to eight hours at school whilst a secondary school student spends about twelve to fourteen hours at school if including lunch time and evening classes. Due to fierce competitiveness to get into good universities, the pressure to do well for Gao Kao is intense. Many schools hold extra morning classes in science and math for three to four hours on Saturdays. If schools do not have Saturday morning classes, most parents would send their children to expensive cramming school at weekends or organise one-to-one private tuition for their children over the weekend.

I also think parents condone gaming as it keeps kids quiet and you know they are home safe and not out wandering the streets. There is also the issue that a lot of teenage communication is now online so if you don’t game you will feel excluded.

Concentration and interpersonal skills are going to be the key abilities for success in the modern world. If you are a parent I would not worry about the traditional school subjects. If your kid can hold a conversation, is friendly and empathetic, and can read a chapter in a book without reaching for their phone then they will be sorted. It is also a good target for us adults to aspire to.

As I said gaming is not inherently bad. I know a group of guys in their late 50s who get together online every Thursday night to fight Nazis in Call of Duty WW2, and a good time is had by all. But when gaming becomes addictive or a method of avoiding the real world, then you have an issue.