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China has introduced laws that will limit gamers under the age of 18 to an hour of video games on Fridays, weekends and holidays.

This comes after state-owned news outlet Xinhua previously compared digital games with “electronic drugs” and called for more restrictions on the industry to prevent “widespread” addiction among children in an article in Economic Information Daily, a publication it owns.

The National Press and Publication Administration will keep watch on online gaming companies such as Tencent to ensure that the time limits are being enforced.

Even though the article was later pulled, Tencent announced new measures after noting “relevant authorities” had requested greater protection of minors in gaming and for firms to carry out their “societal responsibility”.

The new restrictions, which will initially apply only to Honor of Kings, will stop children under the ages of 12 from spending money on the game and further reduce the duration they can play each day from 1.5 hours to one hour normally, and from three hours to two hours on holidays.

Tencent previously proposed for the entire industry to consider including a ban on gaming for children under 12. It has already enacted some protections for younger players, including a facial recognition feature on smartphones to ensure that a gamer is an adult.

Why is this happening?

  • This is the latest in wider regulation from the Chinese government. The country’s Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) previously singled out Kuaishou, Tencent’s messaging tool QQ, Alibaba’s Taobao and Weibo for the lack of privacy and safety of children using the internet.

  • Even though the platforms were given a deadline to take down the content, CAC has fined them for endangering minors’ physical and mental health by not cleaning up seven types of illegal content.

  • China has also since launched a national campaign that will address what it perceives as major issues in the digital industry.

  • The six-month-long campaign will address the ‘tough problems’ of the internet industry, including disturbing market order, infringing users’ rights, threatening data security and unauthorized internet connections.

  • The campaign will target 22 specific scenarios, including apps that do not allow users to opt out of personalization, use pop-ups to mislead or deceive consumers, do not encrypt sensitive information when transmitting data, and provide data to third parties without user consent.

  • It will also crack down on blocking and restricting normal access to other websites without a legitimate reason.

  • These measures are aimed at the likes of Tencent’s WeChat, which is known for blocking links to its competitors, and Bytedance, which owns Douyin (TikTok) and blocks link to livestreaming sites such as Alibaba’s Taobao and JD.com.