by Peter Franklin
Tuesday, 31
August 2021
Debate
07:00

The West can learn from China’s crackdown on gaming

For years, we have tried — and failed — to restrict access to pornography
by Peter Franklin
Young Chinese netizens state-mandated ration for gaming has been reduced to three hours per week

Online computer games are addictive — and many parents struggle to limit the amount of time their children spend playing them. But not in China. There, the government does it for you. 

In measures announced this week, the state-mandated ration for all under-18s has been reduced to just three hours per week. What’s more, these are three specific hours i.e. 8pm to 9pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. If you miss the thrice-weekly slot, then too bad. 

According to the BBC, online gaming providers use facial recognition to stop children from logging on between 10pm and 8am — and presumably this could be used to enforce the new restrictions too. 

So just how sinister is this crackdown? The idea of a screen — in your own home — that looks back at you to make sure you’re behaving as required has obvious Orwellian overtones.

Then again, one could argue that real dystopia is in the West — where we allow social media and gaming companies to snare our children’s time without restriction. Indeed, we don’t seem to much care about the access that western children have to pornography — including some of the most extreme and degrading images. 

A 2015 attempt by the British Government to launch a UK-wide porn filter hit repeated delays until the idea was abandoned altogether in 2019. It was an object lesson in the weakness of western democracy in the face of new technology. 

There’s a weird disconnect between our regulation of television (where, for instance, we enforce restrictions on advertising during children’s programmes) and what happens online. Obviously, there are greater technical difficulties in regulating millions of websites than a handful of broadcast channels, but that’s not the only reason why we’re so soft on the online providers. 

We still have a romantic notion of the internet as an abode of freedom. Big Tech has had the thing sewn up for years, but we cling to the notion of a digital frontier where anything goes.

The Chinese Government has no such illusions. Like authoritarian regimes elsewhere, it has long understood the potential of the internet as a means of mass control. The crackdown on online gaming is just part of a wider crackdown in which the country’s tech companies are being brought to heel. 

I’m not suggesting that we should go the full Xi Jinping in the West. Far from it. But it’s about time we got real. The internet is not a free-for-all, but a space in which a small number of powerful actors wield extraordinary influence. The only question is who’s doing it to whom and for what purpose. 

Join the discussion


  • I doubt any worldly-wise parent fails to realise the damage caused by addiction to gaming – or any other internet sourced activity.
    If you want to control this stuff yourself (without state involvement) just invest in a broadband router in your home – that allows you to give each kid their own network – and then manage the access timetable for that particular child.
    It cost me about £300 … and gives me a great reward/punishment tool into the bargain.

  • Your advice is good, but the problem, Ian, is that there are a lot of worldly (and selfish and negligent) parents who aren’t wise! I hate the thought of Chinese-style government controls, but I don’t know how this evil genie can be forced back into the bottle without something like them. Our young people’s minds are being poisoned to make some people rich.

  • Its fine for parents not to ensure restricted access for their kids (to feed their internet addictions) – as long as they are happy to accept reduced life chances for their offspring compared to the other parents/nations who do.
    Be prepared to accept that many future “working from home” jobs will go to disciplined Chinese kids (at lower cost) rather than your children.

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