China’s government has banned those under the age of 18 from playing online video games, except between the times of 8pm to 9pm, on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays. The move by the CCCP comes hot on the heels of Chinese state media describing online gaming as ‘spiritual opium’.
Regarding the decision, which has sent the stock of Chinese media giants such as Tencent plummeting, China’s National Press and Publication Administration, the regulator in charge of the industry, described the new restrictions as being put in place to “effectively protect the physical and mental health of minors”.
While politicians have long used video games as a sort of cultural scapegoat to blame systemic problems on, China’s decision, though draconian, is certainly not without merit.
Online gaming, far from the days of Quake and even ye olde Modern Warfare 2, has become increasingly monetized, and increasingly predatory in it’s monetization. Methods are used, such as slowing game progress, to coax players into in-game purchases, some of which often consist of predatory gambling mechanics. Considering many of these games are specifically aimed at children, there is considerable reason for worry.
Over the past few years, the internet has been dotted with stories of young children spending large sums of money on in-game purchases in the likes of Fifa, Fortnite, and many other multi-platform monstrosities peddled by various tech giants. While these stories have garnered much outcry, such practices of monetization, even when they involve elements of randomness, have largely been left unregulated across a wide variety of states.
A Spotlight document drawn up by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service published in early 2020 for the Irish legislature describes the apparent effect of loot boxes in relation to developing ‘problem gambling’ habits in gamers. Despite this document’s publication however, the issue has not garnered much attention with our government, nor has the Irish media class or even the general public shown much concern.
However, while the Irish public may not be thinking of predatory video games, predatory video games have certainly turned their attention towards Ireland. Not only are our children regular consumers of this ‘spiritual opium’, but Irish culture itself is being used to sell gambling mechanics in games both at home and abroad.
In particular, so-called ‘gacha’ games such as Fate/Grand Order have been selling players distinctly weeb-ified variants of Cú Chulainn, Scathach and Queen Medb to make billions through gambling mechanics. A Gacha game is typified by where the player needs to spend set aunts of digital currency (often though not always purchased with real currency) to get random things in game, such as playable characters. Of course, this method of distribution has been fused with anime girls, resulting in players spending hundreds, even thousands of euro in order to obtain their favorite waifu.
I wish I was joking.
While games like F/GO have most certainly breathed new life into Irish cultural icons and mythology it has come at a steep cost. Though I am all for increasing the prominence of Irish mythology, the use of it to sell overpriced digital images of scantily dressed waifus to lonely young men is a step too far. For once, it may actually be justified to cry out against this kind of monetization as a form of so-called ‘cultural appropriation’, but such is likely a can of worms for another article.
Just as social media has only gotten more predatory in its practices over time, so too has gaming become a den of unethical practices and predatory manipulation. While a number of attempts have been made on the cultural level to limit the use of these practices, the ineffectiveness of such methods indicate that it is likely time for the strong arm of government to wrestle these big tech giants back in line. This is without even considering that, in particular, the Irish people have skin in this game, in that it’s their culture, among others, being used to push these practices in some cases.
In this sense, while the above move on China’s part is draconian, and likely will not be all that effective, it is highly likely to be a step in the right direction. It is high time Ireland follows suit.