‘Two sessions’ 2022: China’s video game crackdown shows no signs of easing as delegate proposals reflect harsh stance

  • NPC and CPPCC delegates have suggested additional measures to curb video game addiction, such as a complete ban for minors and holding parents accountable
  • The legislative bodies are not directly involved in policymaking for the video game industry, but they reflect the political climate in Beijing

Multiple delegates at this year’s “two sessions”, China’s largest annual political gathering, have suggested the government tighten its control over video games to keep minors away from such content, signalling that there is little political appetite for pushing to ease restrictions on the industry.

The National People’s Congress (NPC) and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the two bodies currently meeting in Beijing, are not directly involved in policymaking for the gaming industry, but the two sessions can act as a bellwether for national policy.

During the event last year, President Xi Jinping said video game addiction is a social problem that needs to be fixed. Beijing introduced harsher video game restrictions over the summer, limiting gaming time for players under 18 years old to just three hours per week and suspending licenses for new games.

Comments from delegates this year suggest the political climate in Beijing remains hostile towards gaming.

“Many minors are purchasing game accounts or the personal information of adults online to get around the playtime restrictions,” said Xu Jin, a CPPCC delegate. The government must enhance oversight, Xu said, as some e-commerce sites and trading platforms are ignoring the rules.

Gaming companies must also improve their “anti-indulgence systems” and use facial recognition to verify users’ identities, Xu added. Many mobile games in China already use facial recognition for user verification, but questions have arisen about the efficacy of the technology.

CPPCC delegate Yu Xinwei said facial recognition should only be applied to adult accounts to protect the privacy of minors.

Ding Yuanzhu, another CPPCC member, suggested that parents be held accountable if their children are found to be addicted to video games.

Li Jun, an NPC member and village party secretary in Sichuan province, suggested a more extreme measure: a complete ban on video gaming for minors. Gaming firms should be held accountable for services provided to teenagers, Li said. He also called for a ban on video game advertising online, especially “vulgar” ads containing violence and adult content.

Meanwhile, Tencent Holdings’ Pony Ma Huateng and NetEase’s William Ding Lei, the CEOs of China’s two largest gaming firms and members of the NPC and CPPCC, respectively, have remained silent on the issue. Ma did not mention gaming in his proposal, and neither executive called for a relaxation of industry restrictions.

The government has not approved any new video game titles for sale in China since last July, and it has not offered any explanation for the freeze. This marks the longest game licensing hiatus since a nine-month suspension in 2018. Amid regulatory headwinds, 14,000 gaming-related businesses closed between July and December.

Last month, the state-backed China Audio-Video and Digital Publishing Association, the state-backed gaming industry association, denied a rumour that there would be no video game licenses approved this year.

Author: Jiaxing Li, SCMP

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