China's video-game limits haven't cut heavy gaming – New Scientist

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The strict time limits China imposed on how long under-18s can spend playing video games had no effect on heavy gaming generally, according to a study of 7 billion hours of playing time
By Chris Stokel-Walker
10 August 2023

People in a video gaming centre in Shanghai, China

There are concerns in China about the amount of time people spend gaming

ALEX PLAVEVSKI/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

There are concerns in China about the amount of time people spend gaming
ALEX PLAVEVSKI/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
China’s policy of introducing curfews on video-game playing had no immediate effect on heavy gaming, a study shows.
The Chinese state has imposed time limits on access to video games for players under the age of 18 since 1 November 2019. From that point, children weren’t meant to play games for longer than 90 minutes a day, or 3 hours on public holidays. Those rules were further tightened in August 2021 so those under 18 could only play for 1 hour on Fridays, weekends and public holidays.
The aim of the policy, which has been cited by other governments, is to combat gaming addiction.
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Now, David Zendle at the University of York, UK, and his colleagues have analysed more than 7 billion hours of playing time over 22 weeks from 188 million unique gamer profiles in China linked to Unity, a game development tool. The study covered the 11 weeks running up until 1 November 2019 and the 11 weeks afterwards. The ages of the players weren’t known, and the study was confined to this period to avoid any effects from the beginnings of the covid-19 pandemic in China in early 2020.
No decrease in heaving gaming – playing for more than 4 hours per day, six days per week – was seen. In fact, individual accounts were 1.14 times more likely to play games heavily in any given week after the policy was implemented. The authors say this isn’t a meaningful increase, however.
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“The findings are astonishing,” says Zendle. “It’s probably the most well-known policy that has been widely assumed to be effective.”
It was surprising how little an impact the policy seemed to have, says team member Catherine Flick at De Montfort University in Leicester, UK. “There wasn’t the effect that we would expect to see of people trying to work around that sort of limitation,” she says.
The findings are interesting, but only some of the people in the data set would be affected by China’s rules on minors, says Igor Szpotakowski at Newcastle University, UK.
To gain better data, say the researchers, technological frameworks are necessary that both preserve the privacy of people in data sets and allow access to large scale behavioural and demographic data such as age. Nevertheless, the results – or lack of them – should have profound effects on how regulators think about their interventions, say the researchers. “Any rule-making in this debate needs to be data-led,” says Zendle.

Journal reference

Nature Human Behaviour DOI: 10.1038/s41562-023-01669-8

Journal reference
Nature Human Behaviour DOI: 10.1038/s41562-023-01669-8
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