Gaming addiction: Lessons from the Chinese

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By Mohan Krishnamoorthy

As a parent of a 12-year-old who asked for and got the latest Nintendo Switch gaming console for his birthday, I have been acutely aware of the role digital tools play in the young impressionable minds. After all, the pandemic and lockdowns have helped this generation of kids leapfrog the digital divide, almost instantly. As a parent, I am also cognizant of the pitfalls of over-digitization and the need to set limits, especially when it comes to online gaming.
Given this background, I was not surprised to read about the recent announcement from the Chinese government curtailing gaming time among youngsters there. The government decreed that young people can only spend three hours per week, in a move attempting to minimize gaming addiction. Parents like me are probably wondering if the governments in India and other countries could even contemplate such a move.

Economists and policy makers love to draw parallels between the two most populous nations on earth- China and India. Both developing nations have a youthful, tech-savvy populace eager to take on the world. Just like India, middle-class parents in China are acutely aware of the role academics and early-stage educational excellence plays in shaping the lives and careers of their kids. Parents spend their live savings in ensuring that their kids get into the right schools, receive the right tuition and coaching, and are prepared to ace “The Exam” that will define the rest of their life and career.

In China, it is the National College Entrance Examination (NCEE), commonly known as the gaokao that millions take on the same day. Similarly, in India it is the 12th Board exams followed by a NEET, JEE or CET that millions of aspiring doctors and engineers take.

Along with academic excellence, parents in India and China also take pride in preparing their kids for the digital era, ensuring they invest in high-speed internet, smart phones, laptops, tablets and other gadgets. These gadgets are turning out to be double-edged swords. These “tools” can be extremely effective in remote education, as the pandemic and lockdowns have shown. Zoom and Google Meet have bridged the educational gap when the kids were unable to step out of home. The kids have taken to these like ducks to water, and in many cases learn to do mischievous things kids normally do including playing online games during school hours and secretly downloading “cool” apps.

Parents have been unable or unwilling to step-in to sensor their online activities. They see online interaction among kids as a necessary outlet for a generation lacking in-person interaction with their peers and teachers.
Remember “Blue Whale”?

Online games that evolved as a recreational tool have morphed into multi-player activity designed to be sticky. Young, impressionable minds are unable to distinguish between recreational gaming and addictive binging, that becomes all consuming. Indian parents got a glimpse into the mind-altering power of games a couple of years ago when sordid incidents of “Blue Whale” activities gone horribly wrong were reported in the media. And then came the craze around Tic-Toc challenges, sometimes with fatal consequences.

The new generation of multi-player online games are taking gaming addiction to a whole new level. Just the other day I remember reading a news article of a 13-year-old stabbing his father after his cell phone was yanked away mid-game.

Chinese Playbook
The latest move represents a huge tightening of limits set by the Chinese regulators who had earlier restricted play to 90 minutes on weekdays and three hours on weekends. Authorities said that the restrictions were put in place to help prevent young people becoming addicted to video games.

The new rules prompted outcry on Chinese social media, where many users complained that they were too strict. But one thinks Chinese parents must be secretly cheering this move, letting the government be the “bad cop”.
While parents in India and rest of the world continue to debate about the addictive nature of online gaming, they are certainly looking at lessons from China.

Mohan Krishnamoorthy is an Indian American technology executive with a multinational company. The opinions in this article are his own and not that of his organization. To those wondering about his CTC, he was honored with a Silver certificate by the Income Tax Department for his tax contributions to the Indian economy. He can be reached at mohan@garamchai.com or https://www.linkedin.com/in/mohanbabuk/


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