Videogame restrictions in China

You may have read in the news lately that China currently has a campaign going on against… Well, basically all forms of entertainment, and some other things as well. From celebrities to role playing games, from cartoons to videogames. It seems they want people to be very bored and turn their attention to… having sex so the fertility rate starts increasing at last.

When I first studied Chinese in Beijing, back in 2006, we had a class in which we would debate about many different topics, using our very limited language abilities. I distintly remember that one of our discussions was videogame addiction. Fifteen years ago, Chinese adults were already very worried about the time their children spent playing videogames. But children spend too much time playing games or watching TV everywhere… Why is it particularly concerning to Chinese?

Picture in class, during my first year in Beijing.

Well, it might be because of the rat race that their education is. People still think that, to “make it”, their children need to attend one of the best universities in China. I think this is a valid concern for people from humble origins, as education is probably their only way out of poverty, but for middle-upper class families… I don’t think it is. The thing is, since they are maybe 3 years old, Chinese children start attending all manners of extracurricular lessons because, as their parents put it, “if everybody else does it, we have to do it too!”. I have even seen ads for something called Baby MBAs, which yes, I am pretty sure it’s a great way to separate anxious parents from their money. You might have also heard about the Chinese government clamping down on extracurricular classes, and I applaud this, although it comes with a whole set of new problems (for example, children being out of class before their parents finish working and go back home, which makes families once again dependant on grandparents, which truly are the saviors of Chinese society…).

One of the first pictures I took when I first arrived to China in 2006: children doing exercises in the secondary school next to my dorm.

Videogames have been called “opium” and we can all agree that spending too much time on one thing is not healthy. However, is it up to the government to decide what our children should and should not do in their free time? And here I am totally revealing myself as a Westerner, haha, although I believe many people in China share this thought (but you won’t see it on official channels because, well, their comments get deleted). There is also the fact that, by specifying when children can play games (Fridays to Sundays, 8 to 9 pm), the government seems to be saying: “Well, parents, as you are unable to educate your children, we will have to… and treat you like children in the process, too” (do you remember the “giant infantcontroversy of a few years ago?). For many people this is not a problem at all, and in one of the news that I linked at the beginning, a parent said that “I think this is the right policy. It amounts to the state taking care of our kids for us” (let’s hope the next step isn’t to literally take care of them, by putting all children in state controlled facilities or something like that, to ensure their correct and patriotic education). Some Western voices have expressed their support, and even envy, of the new regulation, and that’s perfectly fine too (I may long for a similar rule when my son becomes a teenager!).

I wonder if the Chinese children’s reaction will be: “Oh, I can’t play games anymore, I’ll study instead!”, or “Oh, I can’t play games anymore, I’ll just watch TV or stupid videos on my phone until my eyes fall off”. What do you think?