Can China Really Stop Children From Playing Video Games?

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This rule, including an “anti-addiction” system for tracking players, is the latest in centuries of efforts by parents and governments to control the lucrative market for children’s minds.

It is also a reminder of these reforms throughout history: often the best way to make a business thrive is to try to limit it. Ever since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, telling people that they cannot have something has made them even more eager.

In every generation, kids have craved whatever entertainment their parents denounce and restrict the most. Then they grew up, became parents themselves, and quickly cut back on their own children’s favorite entertainment options, often calling on governments to enact new restrictions.

Such criticisms and repressions have tended to fizzle out, fail or backfire.

Consider the printed weekly soap operas of Victorian Britain called “penny dreadfuls”.

Contemporary moralists called them “filthy filthy garbage” and “penny packs of poison” that would turn lower class children into violent criminals, threatening the social order of Britain.

As critics raged and the Society for the Suppression of Vice in London dispatched police to raided publishers, appalling penny sales rose from a few thousand a week to hundreds of thousands. Meanwhile, crime rates have plummeted as these cheap publications turned out to be a gateway drug that helped kids get to read. Among the Brits who gained acclaim for loving dreadful pennies in their youth were novelist HG Wells and JM Barrie, creator of “Peter Pan”.

In the 1950s in the United States, comics suffered the same kind of fire.

In 1954, the US Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings to determine whether comics contributed to juvenile delinquency. His report, supported by so-called expert testimony that has long been debunked, concluded that many comics offered “short courses on murder, chaos, robbery, rape, cannibalism. , bloodshed, necrophilia, sex, sadism, masochism and virtually every other form of crime, degeneration, bestiality and horror. “

In response, the industry passed the Comics Code Authority, stating that “in all cases good will triumph over evil” and that “all sordid, unsavory and macabre illustrations will be eliminated.”

The kids didn’t want that. So, William Gaines, a former mainstay of horror and crime comics, focused his energy on Mad magazine. In its heyday of the 1950s to 1970s, Mad’s parodies and mockery taught millions of children to beware of powerful institutions like the ones that attacked the comics and made millions of dollars for Gaines and his people. investors.

In the mid-1980s, the Parents Music Resource Center, run by women married to prominent politicians including Tipper Gore, then wife of future Vice President Al Gore, argued that popular music was in the spotlight. origin of an upsurge in rape and other violence. The group pushed for several proposals, including adding warning labels on records with offensive lyrics, and sparked hearings by the Senate Trade Committee.

In his Senate testimony, musician Frank Zappa called the proposals “equivalent to the treatment of dandruff by beheading.”

While some music stores refused to carry labeled albums, sales globally exploded. Rap and hip-hop, one of the genres targeted by the PMRC, has become the best-selling music in the United States.

Perhaps it was not despite the parents’ advice, but because of them. In 1989, on his track “Freedom of Speech,” rapper Ice-T ridiculed the warning labels: “The sticker on the record is what makes them sell gold ….”

Another moral panic over children’s entertainment arose in late 1993 and early 1994, when the United States Senate investigated violence in video games.

Audiences cited hits such as Mortal Kombat, in which fighters ripped off enemies’ heads and tore off their spines in one motion, and Night Trap, whose towering vampires used drills to drain blood from their enemies. victims. Senator Joseph Lieberman introduced a bill that would create a government commission to monitor video game content.

To avoid this, the industry has created its own scorecard, which labels games and apps based on their suitability for kids and other users.

The result? Video games have become more violent and more popular than ever. Today, estimates the Entertainment Software Association, a commercial group, 76% of American children and 67% of adults play video games. Many say they could not have survived the Covid quarantine without them.

The Chinese government has long had its own concerns about protecting young minds from what it sees as immoral influences.

Chinese authorities often refer to video games as ‘opium for the mind’ or ‘opium for the mind’, citing not only the addictive properties of the game, but also the nation’s humiliating defeat against Britain. and other colonial powers during the Opium Wars of the 19th century.

Many Chinese parents are worried about the time their children are spending playing, which gives authorities the perfect excuse for the latest crackdown on children’s online activities. “It’s a practical way for the Chinese government to gain consensus and support for the idea of ​​controlling the Internet in general,” said Marcella Szablewicz, a media professor at Pace University who studies games in China.

The Chinese government has restricted the use of video games for at least 20 years, said Lisa Cosmas Hanson, president of Niko Partners, a Campbell, Calif., Company that studies the Asian games industry. Yet the number of players in China has grown from 120 million in 2010 to 727 million last year, according to Niko.

Less than 5% of Chinese video game revenues, on average, come from children. Gamers of all ages have bypassed China’s previous restrictions on video games by using dodges such as private computer networks, logging in with fake ID, or asking someone else to log in for them .

On September 4, the first Saturday under China’s new restrictions, the servers of Honor of Kings, one of the country’s most popular mobile games, appear to have crashed during the only hour of play allowed by the government, apparently because they couldn’t handle the increased traffic.

The players are not going to put up with this. In the struggle between an authoritarian government and a few hundred million children, sooner or later children will win.

In his regular column on Intelligent Investor, Jason Zweig writes about investment trends, portfolio strategy and financial decision making. Subscribe to his newsletter here.

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