Life & Leisure

‘Opium’ for the government, hobby for others: mobile gaming in China

By Alvaro Alfaro

Beijing, Aug 26 (EFE).- At the beginning of August, Chinese companies in the video game sector fell on the stock market after official media described online games as “spiritual opium” and “electronic drugs,” despite which they remain an extremely popular form of leisure among the population.

The Economic Information Daily newspaper then published an article – later deleted and later republished without the most aggressive commentary – in which it said “no industry should develop by destroying a generation,” causing stock market falls in companies such as Tencent or Netease.

Criticism from the government or the media dates back decades, when at the beginning of 2000 authorities banned the import of video game consoles, a veto maintained until 2014, due to their “negative influence” on young people.

Restrictions on Internet cafes were also increased in those years to “protect” the physical and mental health of the population, which resulted in fans being able to use only computers and, later, mobile phones.

Thus, a perfect breeding ground was formed for the development of a powerful video game industry on such platforms: according to a report by the China Internet Information Center, 62.5 percent of Chinese minors “frequently” play online, and more than half of them, 56.4 percent, do so through mobile phones.

Chao Sheng, 27, and a video game fan since he was 10, told EFE that during his teenage he played between one and two hours a day – up to five on holidays – and, at university, “between five and seven hours.”

Now, as he’s employed, he plays a maximum of two hours.

“Video games are a way of resting and killing time,” he said.

However, the official press does not see them as a simple pastime, and frequently accuses games of being designed to create dependence among minors.

Chao is aware of the tactics used by developers, saiyg that they “design a very absorbing experience that makes you less sensitive to the passage of time.”

Local media identified factors about why the video game “Honor of Kings,” which they dubbed “Pesticide King,” has become so popular with young people. Among them, its marked social component that makes friends to play in a group.

It also spoke about the its fast games, designed to last about 10 minutes – the rest time between classes in schools.

Today, the game has 200 million registered users.

Chao said government regulations are “reasonable” in that these companies seek to become “commercial monopolies,” adding that when dealing with video games, the media focus too much on the so-called “harmful effects” about society.

He said the problems derived from its consumption cannot be completely blamed on companies.

Xing Zheng, a Beijing mother whose son has just passed adolescence, told EFE that “parents, schools, society and companies are responsible.”

She feared her son would “get hooked,” especially after turning 13, when he “would sneak games at night” or “ask other people for money” to keep playing.

She was afraid her son would plunge into an “unreal” virtual world, that he would “waste time” and that he would become a sullen teenager “with whom one could not talk”.

Tencent is one of the main companies in the sector and, under social pressure and new regulations, it has implemented various measures in recent years to tackle criticism.

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