Chinese children will be banned from playing video games for more than 3 hours per week, according to new Chinese government policies designed to wind back the impact of gaming that has been described by state media as “spiritual opium”.

Implemented by that country’s National Press and Publication Administration (NPPA) and now in effect as of 1 September, the new policies apply to Chinese citizens under 18 – who will only be allowed to access games between 8pm and 9pm on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and on national holidays.

“Minors’ overuse of [indulgence] in online games has become a prominent problem, which has a negative impact on normal life, learning, and healthy growth,” a translation of the NPPA proclamation explains, adding that the new measures are designed to “further tighten management measures, resolutely prevent minors from indulging in online games, and effectively protect the physical and mental health of minors”.

Game publishers carry the onus of limiting users’ play to the specified hours, and are expected to “actively guide families, schools and other social sectors to create a good environment that is conducive to the healthy growth of minors” including strengthening online literacy education for minors.

The new rules apply to mobile games as well as console and computer games, and also include a ban on using fake names – with gaming companies required to link online games to the NPPA-run “anti-addiction real-name verification system” to ensure that the country’s more than 664m gamers use real names when accessing their systems.

Publishers are also banned from allowing users to use any trial modes to users who have not logged in using their real names.

Gaming companies that fail to comply will be “severely [dealt] with in accordance [to] regulations”, the NPPA warned.

Boiling the frog

Shares in gaming giants declined after the NPPA’s latest announcement, which represents the latest step in an ongoing Chinese government campaign that has long kept videogame publishers on edge as they seek to capitalise upon the world’s largest gaming market.

With in-demand titles raking in strong profits – a localised version of Call of Duty: Mobile made over $19.2m ($US14m) in the first week of its Chinese release last Christmas – constraints on gamers’ access to new and popular games could be a significant drag on revenues.

Major Western publishers such as Ubisoft, Activision, Electronic Arts and Take-Two were remaining equanimous years ago as they watched newly-established state censors stalling games approvals in order to reduce the number of new games released into the Chinese market.

The move came on the back of concerns that video-game addiction was causing an epidemic of myopia as youths combined heavy study loads with extensive screen and gaming time.

Early last month, shares in Chinese tech giant Tencent Holdings dropped by more than 10 per cent – and US publishers’ shares followed – after its wildly-successful Honor of Kings game was singled out in a state media article that described videogames as “spiritual opium”.

That reference was removed during a subsequent document edit, but the original article has been quoted as declaring that “no industry, no sport, can be allowed to develop in a way that will destroy a generation.”

Despite studies suggesting that video games make kids smarter and anecdotal reports of teenagers turning their gaming prowess into multi million-dollar windfalls, concern has grown that today’s youth are spending too much time gaming.

Gaming addiction was formally recognised as a mental health condition in 2018, when the World Health Organisation described it as a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming so severe that it takes “precedence over other life interests”.