A new Internet policy in web-using juggernaut China could affect the online gaming experience of many Chinese minors, defined as anyone under age 18. The two new policies call for an end to virtual currency availability to minors, except in games themselves, and for online games to be moral and limit the hours people can play them to an acceptable amount. And they demand all this in extremely vague terms.
Starting with online currency, because it’s simpler and has a far narrower scope, all this regulation really does is disallow website platforms designed for the trading of virtual currency. In-game economies will be unaffected, but gamers won’t be able to use external sites to trade real currency for virtual currency, or trade one virtual currency for another. All the fake money will be kept in the fake world from which it came. Simple, easy, and not too devastating.
Then there’s the new moral regulation, devoid of nearly any details whatsoever. According to xinhuanet.com:
Horrifying, cruel or other content that is “unwholesome” is forbidden and measures must be developed to keep minors away from “inappropriate games,” say the regulations.
The regulations offer no definition of “unwholesome” content, but explicitly forbid content advocating pornography, cults, superstitions, gambling and violence in all online games.
That list of explicitly forbidden themes is about as detailed as we’re going to get here. Beyond them, the definition of unwholesome is left up to game developers, which means that in a few months it will inevitably be up to the courts.
There is also a call for games to disallow unreasonable durations of continuous play time. But the amount of time and the methods to stop it are left completely undefined. Also, there’s no clarity regarding whether it would violate the policy for games to allow minors to hop from game to game, playing only an hour on each. It seems unlikely that this could be regulated, and even more unlikely that it could ever be enforced. So this ban will have limited effects on overall play-time.
Much of the controversy around online gaming has arisen from a series of deaths, beatings, and escapes from Chinese Internet boot camps, where military techniques are employed to eliminate addictions to online gaming and other Internet use. Whether any of these regulations, in their mostly vague state, will be enforced is questionable. If there aren’t some clearer guidelines put in place soon, the legal battles that may arise from this, or the controversy surrounding unjust game shut-downs, could make the problem worse than it already is.