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Friday, August 6, 2021

Tencent vs. China's Gaming Restrictions

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - ...And you're going to see this in the Western world, too.

Medium-time KoopaTV readers know that I like to write mean things about the Chinese Communist Party at every opportunity. KoopaTV is banned from mainland China as a result, because their government is really sensitive to criticism. Among all of that criticism, I might not have been nuanced in how I've described the business-government relationship in China, so I'll go into some detail in this article.

Corporations in China often are naturally at odds with the Chinese Communist Party. Companies want to maximise their profit. The Chinese Communist Party wishes to make sure everyone is being a proper ideological communist mind servant with high social credit. Those come in conflict. In China, the government will always come out on top.

We can see this in a story from this week: A state-sponsored media outlet in China (the Economic Information Daily) referred to Tencent's game Honor of Kings, a China-only mobile game (re-adapted as Arena of Valor outside of China), as “spiritual opium” that's ruining the childhoods of millions of Chinese kids because of how addictive it is. (Opium has a special place in Chinese history where you really don't want to have an association with it.) Other gaming companies and games took notice as well, as did investors, who see this government-affiliated media publisher as a sign the government is going to be pushing some regulations that will hamper Tencent's (and the whole industry's) profitability.

For its part, Tencent will be creating some restrictions on playing Honor of Kings and its other games to pre-empt government regulations. Players under 12 years old (which means they need to accurately say their age—pretty sure this'll dramatically increase the likelihood of them lying) will not be allowed to spend money in-game, and they will only be able to play for one hour a day (or two hours on holidays). They already are restricted to playing one and a half hours on normal days and three hours on holidays due to earlier concerns about addictiveness and legal regulations created to address that.

I don't know how much profit Tencent gets from the little kids market, but to my point about kids lying about their age, Tencent is rolling out facial recognition technology on smartphones. In China, everyone has a national ID in the government's database that the facial recognition can tap into. That means lying about your identity in China means you need to pretend to be an existing adult. If the face of the person playing doesn't match that adult, you'll be considered a child and booted out. The adult will probably get lower social credit too for letting the kid steal their identity.

China doesn't use that and phone-scanning technology just to enforce gaming addiction restrictions, of course, but to surveil on their people. ...Which can result in your arrest if you're doing something the Chinese Communist Party doesn't approve of, like practice the wrong religious faith.

The same kind of technology is going to be employed for similar purposes in the United States by American companies, by the way. Apple is going to be scanning your iPhones “for child abuse imagery” and probably many other things as well. While Apple at least is claiming they are respecting user privacy through highly sophisticated measures (unlike China who doesn't care to give any lip service to privacy), since the technology will be there, how much will Apple resist governmental pressures to scan things for non-child sexual abuse material purposes?

You might believe that you are only in any danger if you're a child sex abuser and so screw you anyway. Only lawbreakers have something to worry about, right? Well, in China, you're going to be a lawbreaker just for playing a game for more than an hour a day. What is and isn't illegal can be very arbitrary and change rapidly. In an alternate timeline where Hillary Clinton's anti-gaming legislation would have succeeded, America would probably be facing a very similar situation as China right now. Be careful!

By the way, China's regulations may also apply if your kids are playing actually good games, not just predatory mobile MOBAs. That sucks. I wonder if it'd also apply to Ring Fit Adventure, which Nintendo keeps insisting is very popular in China!

Ludwig doesn't like when governments tell people how much they get to play videogames. That's up to the people (and their parents). Still, no one in China is a winner. The government is bad for their regulations and social control and the companies are bad for their business model of exploiting kids with predatory pay-to-win games. America is on its way to do that, too. Nice planet you got, humans.

This China-pushed surveillance is all a good reason to avoid downloading the Tencent-developed Pokémon UNITE.
Ludwig thinks getting Chinese kids to feel hungry while playing games will make them play less.
After these newer Chinese restrictions, South Korea wishes to drop their own restrictions.
Tencent failed to pacify the Chinese Communist Party, who will now prevent under-18 kids from playing games for more than three hours a week across all game providers.
The Chinese Communist Party reportedly had a private sit-down with Tencent to get them to straighten up or else.

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