There's a chilling trend when it comes to attempts at resolving the global issue of video game addiction, and its roots are in the mobile gaming industry.
According to The Wall Street Journal, as an effort to curb the excess of online play seen in younger players and teens, the Chinese company Tencent Holdings Ltd. will be enforcing a policy that effectively limits the amount of time players under 18 will be able to enjoy specific games, such as Honor of Kings (known to the West as Arena of Valor).
The policy will include a verification system, which will check player identities against police databases, and mete out playtime as necessary – children 12 and under will be allowed one hour of play daily, and players 13 to 18 years and older will be allotted two hours a day. The company has referred to the identity checks and new rules for the game as a "health system," and will be applying the same tech to most of its mobile titles going forward, with all of its releases covered by 2019.
To the casual observer, this seems like a foolproof way to help reduce the amount of time younger players spend on these games, but it's a terrifying system that could very well be introduced for the whole of the industry, for adults and children alike. Consider the idea that a video game and media conglomerate is using police databases, as if players are criminals, to verify identities and ages in a bid to reduce video game addiction. It all seems a bit like the dystopian future we've been steadily barreling toward, doesn't it?
There is absolutely no need for a "policing" of when or how long individuals spend playing particular games, especially from a game publisher or developer. Ensuring children and teens aren't spending hours on their mobile devices in lieu of sleeping or eating is a job for parents, not a video game company or worse, the government.
There's no indication that reducing gameplay to a meager hour or two is going to help cut back on the tragic deaths that have occurred in net cafes around the world when people refused to get up from their games and do something else. It's upsetting, disturbing even, that these things happen. But enforcing limits like this will likely only lead to even worse behaviors exploding into existence.
It's no surprise that this is happening in a country that's already planning on heavily regulating other parts of its citizens' lives, including giving each person a "social ranking score," but that's hardly a reason to slide into complacency here. Should Tencent trial this system, introduce it, and consider it an integral part of operations, there's no reason why it couldn't be a measure introduced elsewhere in the industry. Sure, it begins as a countermeasure, but it could very easily end up as the norm for games beyond mobile titles, and in additional markets.
Plus, it's easy to circumvent such processes, as anyone with a child can attest to. Just like having an internet filter installed to help keep kids from accessing adult content, these regulations are easily bypassed by using a parent or older friend's phone, thus making the system moot to begin with – even if Tencent opts for the facial recognition software it says it's been testing recently with Honor of Kings.
Policing who plays mobile games and how long they do it isn't the way to solve the crisis surrounding gaming addiction. There's no clear-cut solution, of course, but it doesn't lie within stepping in and setting limits that people can't opt out of. It all comes down to parents setting rules, enforcing them, and educating players on self-care, as well as striking a balance between Big Brother-like interference and helpful nudges in the right direction.
As always, it will have to come down to offering counseling for mental health, insightful education into addiction, and treatment options beyond disallowing people to spend time with a game – even if it "just kids" – that's the slippery slope this all begins on. And with gaming a lucrative, enjoyable, and spellbinding form of entertainment, it doesn't deserve this kind of regulation. Nor do the players looking to have fun – no matter how old they are.