Dear Ms. Smartphone: My cousins live in Asia and the government there has decided to restrict the time that kids can play video games. Now my grandparents are suggesting that it is a good idea for me and I should limit my time on video games like them. I live in the same household as my grandparents. I only play after I do my homework and on the weekends. Usually it is when I get together with kids from my school. I am in tenth grade. Lucas, S. San Francisco
Dear Lucas: Apropos to your question, I read that the Chinese government said “video games are like opium for the mind.” It makes me curious. Was it a political agenda, research from mental health, or sheer hubris that led to this decree? We may never know. We do know that young boys spend a lot of time on video games and Pew Research reports that four-in-ten boys ages 13 to 17 (41%) say they spend too much time playing video games, four times the share of girls who say the same (11%).
The Chinese ban is not new: China was one of the first countries to recognize the potential for addiction to the Internet, video games, and other digital media, and was the first country to formally classify Internet addiction as a clinical disorder. In 2019 kids were allowed 1.5 hours of gaming on weekdays. The new decree limits gaming to 3 hours per week, from 8p.m. to 9p.m. on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
The interesting issue is how the government will enforce it: one way might be at the router- might it disconnect after three hours of play? Young people will need to log in with their real names and will have limited opportunity to buy microtokens. ”Farmers,” the players who mine the games for in-game currency, will need to be over the age of 18!
To me, limiting time is a thoughtful concept, but it is parents and kids who should make this decision. You did not say how much time you currently play. Note that each hour you spend on video games is an hour that you forfeit doing something else. On a particularly day, that is not huge, but over many days- it grows to be an alarming number. During the recent Tokyo Olympics it was reported that those athletes spend about 10,000 hours at their sport before making it to an Olympic team. That’s just 3.5 hours a day over ten years!
Not So Good, Not So Bad
That said, many educators in the U.S. believe that video games have positive benefits: they help develop skills like hand-to-eye coordination, speedy reaction times, strategic thinking, and puzzle solving. It is also an activity, a walled off space, where you socialize with friends. It’s a social thing, particularly when it’s played on larger consoles with others in the room. In China, the norm might seem less sociable if the gaming takes place in arcades or alone on a mobile phone.
While young boys thrive on these games, there is a belief, held by a majority of adults in the U.S., that the amount of gun violence in video games contributes to a “great deal or a fair amount” of gun violence. 82% of people age 65 and older hold this opinion, and your grandparents might be in that age cohort! Their causal inference could be wrong.
Play it WITH Grandpa!
Perhaps kids who are lonely and emotionally unhinged, seek out video games. Was that the rationale in China to limit games? We don’t know. Officially, I have read there was concern about poor eyesight (myopia), college readiness, and protecting kids’ physical and mental health. Be able to sidestep these concerns when you talk with your grandparents!
That said, are there multi generational video games that you can make your grandparents take an interest in, or share an online language-tool? One option is to show them how Roblox Studio works, and create a new game personalized with their input. You may be able to convince them that your programming skill and their creativity will be your ticket to engineering school.