Is China right to limit video game playing?

  •   3 min reads
Is China right to limit video game playing?

China is limiting the amount of time under 18s can play video games to three hours in a weekend. Is it right?

Video games are addictive, but is that necessarily a bad thing? Let's face it, creating addictive games is kind of the point. Does anyone complain that a book is so exciting that you can't put it down? Does anyone complain that a TV series is unmissable? Do watchdogs call for making movies boring? Do they want to reduce tension in books? And yet, when a video games producer makes a game such that you feel you have to complete it, they are accused of creating addiction.

And so often, critics sound like older generations time immemorial— 'you youngsters…play too many video games', they say today. They used to say that the kids 'watched too much TV', before that it was 'read too many books', or maybe during the Middle Ages 'practice archery too much'.

And no doubt other kids were told they played too much football.

Maybe it boils to everything in moderation.

Then again, our species wasn't designed to read books, watch TV, play video games or go on social media.

We are a social species, and if we don't practice our social skills from a young age, maybe we never fully develop them.

The research of video games

The research is ambiguous on whether video games are bad for us. Some research has actually shown a positive correlation between playing video games and both behaviour and our brain.

If a video game is a multiplayer game, then doesn't it support social interaction?

But it all comes back to the everything in moderation trope.

Shannon Vallor from Santa Clara University looked beyond video games and investigated whether digital technologies such as social media can make us less moral — or morally deskill us. She argued that empathy and moral skills, in general, can be learned; and strongly recommends research into whether we risk seeing moral deskilling.

She also argued that digital technologies encourage a kind of multitasking — when perhaps we are in a conversation but are distracted by our smartphone. She said: "multitasking (associated with social media) did provide strong gratifications of a habitual sort—it 'scratched the itch,' if you will. And 'like a locomotive picking up steam,'  the more subjects multitasked on a given day, the more they found themselves compelled to do it the next day."

Perhaps of more concern is the next generation of digital technologies. Video games may or may not cause us to lose touch with reality, but when they are played in virtual reality, the risk of video games becoming pervasive dramatically increases. Might we spend more and more of our time in virtual reality, as if the 'Matrix' becomes our home?

Virtual reality market to hit $180 billion by 2026
A new report forecasts that the virtual reality market will be worth $180 billion by 2027 from $17.25 billion in 2025.

China's video games move

As ever, China takes the extreme approach, limiting the playing of video games to three hours a weekend for under 18-year-olds.

Enforcing the law is controversial — they can get away with it in China, but would Westerners appreciate 'Big Brother' dictating how much time our kids can play video games?

And if they are limited to three hours a weekend, will they watch, say, Disney videos instead?

At least video games involve interactivity — they might well be better for our cognitive abilities than passively watching a movie.

Our right to privacy and decide for ourselves

But is the move by the Chinese authorities that different from Apple monitoring photos?

In the case of Apple, the stated purpose is unambiguously laudable — it is checking images for evidence of child abuse.

Edward Snowdon, however, said: "Apple's new system, regardless of how anyone tries to justify it, will permanently redefine what belongs to you and what belongs to them."

He said: "vulnerability-research efforts have produced compelling evidence that the system is seriously flawed, they also seriously miss the point: Apple gets to decide whether or not their phones will monitor their owners' infractions for the government, but it's the government that gets to decide what constitutes an infraction... and how to handle it."

So, we have two sides here. Should the devices that belong to us, whether we use the cloud or local devices, be allowed to limit us in any way?

Video games may or may not be too addictive for our own good, reduce empathy, and deskill our morality, but should a central body, be it a government or a nice cuddly company like Apple, have any say over that matter?

And if as virtual reality develops, the case against video games becomes stronger, what then?

These are dilemmas we must consider.

Might technology reduce our empathy and what happens when virtual reality is better than reality?

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