By Limiting Online Gaming China's Government Has Become as Heavy-Handed as My Parents Were [part 1/2]
Meanwhile, dare we be hopeful that children raised on screens will have the temerity to work the greens?
In news reminiscent of my childhood, the Chinese government recently announced that children under 18-years-old would be forbidden from playing more than three hours of online video games per week, and solely between the hours of 8pm and 9pm, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. This is an update of previous laws enacted in 2019 whereby under-18s were allowed one and a half hours on any day, seven days a week, along with an extra three hours on public holidays.
But whereas my childhood restriction from watching any television at all (and by extension no video game playing either) between Monday and Thursday was accomplished by my parents hiding the remote control (abetted by a faulty power button on the television set that only worked once in a blue moon when holding it down and smacking the side of the TV really hard), the Chinese government's approach is unsurprisingly a bit more hi-tech.
Encompassing mobiles and all other devices, video game companies – such as the world's largest, Tencent Holdings Ltd – will be required to verify gamers with "Midnight patrol" facial recognition technology in order to circumvent children masquerading as adults via such things as their parents' IDs, the "anti-addiction" measures requiring all users to register with their real names and government-issued identification – which is only possible in the kind of country that can do things like "erase billionaire actresses" from history.
All this because, as initially stated by the state-owned Economic Information Daily, "Society has come to recognise the harm caused by online gaming and it is often referred to as 'opium for the mind' or 'electronic drugs'." Or as otherwise put by the National Press and Publication Administration in Xinhua, "Teenagers are the future of our motherland. Protecting the physical and mental health of minors is related to the people's vital interests, and relates to the cultivation of the younger generation in the era of national rejuvenation."
But while online video games can very well distract young people from family and school responsibilities, and while the limitation placed only on online gaming suggests the attempt to avoid the formation of anti-social online gaming habits from a young age, a more likely reason for the heavy-handed restriction would be due to the Chinese government's latest round of collectivist aspirations in order to achieve a "harmonious society" of "common prosperity". To achieve this, schoolchildren are being given lessons in president Xi Jinping thought, a social credit system has been implemented utilising AI, facial recognition, and Big Data (allowing for the restriction of social movement and employment opportunities), many of the country's largest companies are being broken up (the Chinese government apparently not concerned about stripping more than a trillion dollars off their market value), top executives are being forced to hand over billions in tax arrears (Jack Ma of Alibaba reportedly locked up for a month), unions are being encouraged (in order to bargain for higher incomes and labour rights), visibly showing off wealth is increasingly discouraged, and now online gaming is being even more heavily curtailed for those under 18.
But while discouraging conspicuous consumption and curtailing the excesses of Internet distraction may be admirable, doing so via top-down social control measures in which virtually every move of virtually every person is monitored so as to measure and ensure compliance will all but surely result in a dysfunctional social system as well as the inevitable pre-revolutionary fervour. Moreover, and although the methodologies are different, top-down social control measures have been tried in China before, and as before they will fail again.
In the meantime, curtailing the usage of online gaming (along with the other aforementioned initiatives) may also very well be a sign that, as opined by former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, China is in fact working towards the "resuscitation of an older Maoist notion of national self-reliance" as well as a sign of "Mr. Xi's desire to win a generational contest against cultural dependency on the West." However, with China's birth-rate having plummeted so much that it recently abandoned its one-child policy, and with China's replacement rate of 1.3 (far short of the 2.1 level needed for maintaining a population size) implying that China is following the path of a rapidly ageing country, not only will China have an elderly-skewed population that will find it hard to be supported by a shrinking base but Beijing could very well miss out on its rather humdrum goal of transforming China into the global superpower, particularly in light of that other geopolitical stalwart.
But of course, if present-day events are any indication – the plausible default on the national debt in the USA (the issue kicked two months down the road) and the plausible collapse of property developer Evergrande in China – then the more likely matter may very well not be who will be the dominant global superpower in the coming years but who shall be the protagonist in the ol' "the bigger they are, the harder they fall" story.
Political posturing and run-of-the-mill global economic crashes aside, curtailing the usage of not only online gaming but also of many of our other screen-based technologies – and not just for under-18s – could be an important and useful factor in lieu of not simply the latest round of global economic collapse but of the unfolding collapse of industrial civilisation itself. To offer just one example of this importance, it's been known for some time now, and not just anecdotally, that due to excessive use of modern technologies – like touch-screen phones and tablets – that children aren't developing sufficient finger muscles that enable them to hold a mere pencil. As stated by Sally Payne, head paediatric occupational therapist at the Heart of England foundation NHS Trust,
Children are not coming into school with the hand strength and dexterity they had 10 years ago. Children coming into school are being given a pencil but are increasingly not ... able to hold it because they don't have the fundamental movement skills.
To be able to grip a pencil and move it, you need strong control of the fine muscles in your fingers. Children need lots of opportunity to develop those skills.
It's easier to give a child an iPad than encouraging them to do muscle-building play such as building blocks, cutting and sticking, or pulling toys and ropes. Because of this, they're not developing the underlying foundation skills they need to grip and hold a pencil.
Not to mention the lack of foundation skills – and wherewithal – to utilise such things as a shovel. Because instead of foundation skills and wherewithal to hold pencils and shovels and what have you, what we're increasingly seeing is the likes of screaming toddlers that are only able to be consoled once a parent lets them play with their smart-phone. The witnessing of more than one of these public spectacles has resulted in yours truly being stricken aghast while simultaneously being forced to suppress a gallows humour-induced smirk, thanks to ingrained thinking that spurred the thought "Oh man, good chance that kid's gonna grow up to be one seriously dumb f**k". (That assertion may not be too much of an exaggeration, educators Joe Clement and Matt Miles making that very argument – albeit in a less profane way – in their book Screen Schooled: Two Veteran Teachers Expose How Technology Overuse is Making Our Kids Dumber.)
Although there's no shortage of people that would reply to the notion of various screen-based technologies making our children dumber with the argument "but we have to prepare our children for reality", since yours truly is more of the "we have to prepare our children for a more agrarian world due to the unfolding collapse of industrial civilisation" camp we can skip that former argument entirely. Likewise, to those wont to retort with "here we go again, new technologies getting scapegoated with making the present day's children less intelligent than the previous generation's", well, by all means, go ahead and raise yourself your very own InstaIdiot.
Circling back around, online video games as well as smart-phones and tablets aren't the only screen-related problem for children, that mantle being held by a technology that presaged the era of "maybe the problem isn't my hand but rather the pencil". A 2015 study by the Australian Institute of Family Studies revealed that by age five children were spending on average two hours staring at screens every weekday, by age 12 were spending three hours every weekday and four hours every weekend day, 60% of all which was spent watching – you guessed it – television. Around 60% of these 4-year-olds had more than two televisions in the home, and while 20% of 6-year-olds had a TV in their own bedroom, that increased to 45% by the age of 12. (And while that's all bad enough, let's not touch the profoundly more horrific American figures.)
But supposing we even wanted to, limiting children nowadays from all-consuming screens of various kinds is of course easier said than done. For evidence we only have to look at our COVID-19 enmeshed world in which children in more energetically-rich nations who weren't being home-schooled already have been (justifiably) forced into doing so. Millions of parents who may otherwise have been trying to limit their childrens' screen-time prior to COVID-19 have now seen all that go to hell as they watch their children spend dozens of hours a week starting at computer screens for learning and socialising.
What, then, might we do?
Well, rather than taking our cue from the Chinese government, a better approach may be to take a hint from an ancient Chinese philosopher.
More on that in the next post.