FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Curfew Panda

It seems a tall, ambitious and very authoritarian order: imposing bans on persons under the age of 18 from playing online games between 22:00 and 08:00; rationing gaming on weekdays to 90 minutes and three hours on holidays and weekends. This is the response of the People’s Republic of China to fears that video game addiction must be combated, less with modest treatment regimes than the curfew method. Perhaps more importantly, the aim here, as with other systems of state surveillance, is to create a system of verification matching a user’s identity with government data.

The guidelines also seek to restrict the money minors can spend on online games – those between 8 and 16 are permitted additions of $29 in digital gaming outlay each month. Those between 16 and 18 can add $57. Teachers, parents and the good authorities are also encouraged to influence the gaming habits of the young. Onward principled instructors.

Video gaming, with its virtual communities, has created worlds of isolation. As John Lanchester would observe in 2009, “There is no other medium that produces so pure a cultural segregation as video games, so clean-cut a division between the audience and the non-audience.” When the video-gamer has made an appearance in cultural discourses, it has usually been as a spectacular horror story, violence on screen begetting violence off screen. This nexus remains forced but no less convincing for the morally concerned.

The concern now is less that minors will rush off and gun down their peers than dissipate themselves in cerebral sludge and apathy. In November 1982, the US Surgeon General C. Everett Koop declared his personal war on video games, which offered “nothing constructive” and consumed the “body and soul” of their users. While having no evidence at the time about the effect of such games on children, he, according to the New York Times, “predicted statistical evidence would be forthcoming soon from the health care fields.”

The current literature is peppered with warnings that the Internet has ceased being the rosy frontier of freedom and very much the hostage taker of controls and desires. Freedom has become vegetate and dulled; users have become narcotised. In 2012, Daria J. Kuss and Mark D. Griffiths in Brain Sciences observed that, over “the past decade, research has accumulated suggesting that excessive Internet use can lead to the development of a behavioural addiction.” Such an addiction “had been considered a serious threat to mental health and the excessive use of the Internet has been linked to a variety of negative psychosocial consequences.”

The review of 18 studies by Kuss and Griffiths makes for despairing reading. Neural circuitry is adjusted via internet and gaming addiction (“neuroadaptation and structural changes”); behaviourally, gaming addicts suggest constriction “with regards to their cognitive functioning in various domains.” But as with everything else such studies on claimed influence and corruption face the usual sceptical rebukes; research is criticised, if not ignored altogether, for being heavy with biases and distortions.

We are left with such non-committal observations as those of Pete Etchells, who makes the rather dull point in Lost in a Good Game that, “There are as yet no universal or conclusive truths about what researches do or do not know about the effects that video games have on us.” Etchells certainly does his best in underscoring the good effects, claiming that “video game play is one of the most fundamentally important activities we can take part in”. Consider, for instance, escapism when facing the death of a parent.

Such views have not impressed the World Health Organisation, which has come down firmly on the side of the anti-gaming puritans. The body has added its voice to the debate, describing such addiction rather discouragingly as “gaming disorder”. It is “defined in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as a pattern of gaming behaviour (‘digital-gaming’ or ‘video-gaming’) characterised by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”

Such a view was bound to cause a flutter of irritation in the gaming industry. As Ferris Jabr noted last month in The New York Times Magazine, the word addiction is an uncomfortable combine involving religious scolding, scientific disapproval, and colloquial use describing “almost any fixation.”

With such opinions circulating, state regulators have decided to come out swinging. In 2018, a game-obsessed China, with the then world’s largest market, unearthed a new gaming regulator: the State Administration of Press and Publications, operating under the auspices of the publicity department of the Chinese Communist Party. The GAPP, as outlined in a document published on the website of the education ministry, would “implement controls on the total number of online video games, control the number of new video games operated online, explore an age-appropriate reminder system in line with China’s national conditions, and take measures to limit the amount of time minors [spend on games].”

But the rationale for having such a body is not exactly one of enlightenment. Fine to wean the young off their addictive devices and platforms, encouraging healthier living, but supplanting it with the guidance of the all-powerful President Xi Jinping? Much equivalent is this to the idea of replacing a symptom with a cult, a questionable solution at best.

Video game companies have made modest efforts to rein in times of use for those of certain age. The world’s largest gaming company, Tencent, took the plunge by limiting game time to one hour a day for those under the age of 12, and two for those between 12 and 18. Such moves seem ineffectual given the sheer variety of games users can expect to sample.

Having such regulators, whatever the noble purpose, is an incitement to capriciousness. Times of use can be adjusted in accordance with whim. The genres of games can be pulled from the market at any given moment for stretched political and social reasons. The Chinese case is rich with examples, including the designation that mah-jong and poker be removed the approval list over concerns regarding illegal gambling.

The effort to restrict those of a certain age from immersing themselves in virtual reality for fear of contaminating the world of flesh and feeling remains current and, in many circles, popular. The Chinese experiment is bound to be catching, but going behind the regulations, weaknesses are evident. The PRC gaming restrictions do not, for instance, cover offline experiences or single-player forms. The addict need merely modify the habit. The true purpose of such moves remain conventional and oppressive: the assertion of state power and surveillance over individual choice.

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
March 27, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Bailouts for the Rich, the Virus for the Rest of Us
Louis Proyect
Life and Death in the Epicenter
Paul Street
“I Will Not Kill My Mother for Your Stock Portfolio”
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The Scum Also Rises
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Stimulus Bill Allows Federal Reserve to Conduct Meetings in Secret; Gives Fed $454 Billion Slush Fund for Wall Street Bailouts
Jefferson Morley
Could the Death of the National Security State be a Silver Lining of COVID-19?
Kathleen Wallace
The End of the Parasite Paradigm
Ruth Hopkins
A Message For America from Brazil’s First Indigenous Congresswoman
Anthony DiMaggio
Misinformation and the Coronavirus: On the Dangers of Depoliticization and Social Media
Andrew Levine
Neither Biden Nor Trump: Imagine Cuomo
David Rosen
God’s Vengeance: the Christian Right and the Coronavirus
David Schultz
The Covid-19 Bailout: Another Failed Opportunity at Structural Change
Evaggelos Vallianatos
In the Grip of Disease
Edward Leer
Somebody Else’s World: An Interview with Kelly Reichardt
Robert Fisk
What Trump is Doing in the Middle East While You are Distracted by COVID-19
Daniel Warner
COVID-19: Health or Wealth?
Thomas Klikauer – Norman Simms
Corona in Germany: Hording and Authoritarianism
Ramzy Baroud
BJP and Israel: Hindu Nationalism is Ravaging India’s Democracy
Richard Moser
Russia-gate: the Dead But Undead
Ron Jacobs
Politics, Pandemics and Trumpism
Chris Gilbert
Letter From Catalonia: Alarming Measures
Richard Eskow
Seven Rules for the Boeing Bailout
Jonathan Carp
Coronavirus and the Collapse of Our Imaginations
Andrew Bacevich
The Coronavirus and the Real Threats to American Safety and Freedom
Peter Cohen
COVID-19, the Exponential Function and Human the Survival
César Chelala - Alberto Luis Zuppi
The Pope is Wrong on Argentina
James Preston Allen
Alexander Cockburn Meets Charles Bukowski at a Sushi Bar in San Pedro
Jérôme Duval
The Only Oxygen Cylinder Factory in Europe is Shut down and Macron Refuses to Nationalize It
Neve Gordon
Gaza Has Been Under Siege for Years. Covid-19 Could Be Catastrophic
Alvaro Huerta
To Survive the Coronavirus, Americans Should Learn From Mexicans
Prabir Purkayastha
Why the Coronavirus Pandemic Poses Fundamental Challenges to All Societies
Raouf Halaby
Fireside Chatterer Andrew Cuomo for President
Thomas Drake
The Sobering Realities of the American Dystopia
Negin Owliaei
Wash Your Hands…If You Have Water
Felice Pace
A New Threat to California’s Rivers:  Will the Rush to Develop Our Newest Water Source Destroy More Streams?
Ray Brescia
What 9/11 Can Teach Us About Responding to COVID-19
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
The Covid-19 Opportunity
John Kendall Hawkins
An Age of Intoxication: Pick Your Poison
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Propaganda Virus: Is Anyone Immune?
Nicky Reid
Fear and Loathing in Coronaville Volume 1: Dispatches From a Terrified Heartland
Nolan Higdon – Mickey Huff
Don’t Just Blame Trump for the COVID-19 Crisis: the U.S. Has Been Becoming a Failed State for Some Time
Susan Block
Coronavirus Spring
David Yearsley
Lutz Alone
CounterPunch News Service
Letter from Truthdig’s Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer to the Publisher Zuade Kaufman
CounterPunch News Service
Statement From Striking Truthdig Workers
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail