“I want to cry”: it’s summer vacation but Zhang Yuchen, 14, must find another hobby than his favorite video game, after a tightening of regulations in China to fight against the addiction of youth.

The giant Tencent, leader of the Chinese market, has imposed a new restriction on its flagship title, the ultra popular “Honor of Kings”. Those under 18 will now only be able to play… two hours a day maximum.

Some children can spend their days glued to their screen. A phenomenon long decried in China for its negative consequences: reduced vision, impact on school results, lack of physical activity or risk of addiction.

Sign of the weight of video games in this country of 1.4 billion inhabitants: they generated 17 billion euros in turnover in the first half of 2021 alone.

Regulations already prohibited minors from playing online between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.

But when at the beginning of August, an article in an official economic daily estimated that video games had become “a mental opium”, the sector began to fear a new regulatory tightening of the authorities, after that targeting companies in the digital.

Fearing to see the tide turn, stock market investors offloaded the shares of the giants of the sector (Tencent, NetEase, Bilibili…) – causing prices to plunge.

The article notably singled out Tencent and its popular multiplayer online game “Honor of Kings”, a hit in China with more than 100 million daily active users.

“Addicted”

Under pressure, the group, which already imposed limits on playing time and facial recognition to prevent under-18s from playing at night, have toughened the rules even further.

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From now on, minors will only be able to play “Honor of Kings” for one hour per day during school term (and two hours during holidays) – the only title at the moment concerned. Beyond that, the game is locked.

For many young people, this goes too far.

” I’m on vacation. I have nothing else to do and I only have the right to play for a little while, ”plague Miss Li, 17, who did not wish to give her full name.

The young girl considers the measure “distressing”, believing that adolescents of her age, almost of age and therefore more responsible, can limit their playing time on their own.

But some minors have found the solution.

“By using an adult’s account, I play two to three hours a day and of course after 10 pm,” laughs a 17-year-old player who wishes to remain anonymous.

Was the frantic reaction of the markets to the article in the official press justified?

“The stock market investors overreacted and it packed the media machine,” said Ether Yin, analyst at Trivium China.

“It’s been since 2018 that the government wants to prevent children from becoming addicted to games,” he notes, stressing that this trend is not really new.

According to him, other video game companies are also expected to publish their own restrictions in the coming weeks.

Daddy player

Tencent’s new rules also took unexpected victims: some parents themselves, who loved to play with their children.

Holder of an adult account for “Honor of Kings”, Peng Jianfei, a 45-year-old programmer, had given permission to his 12-year-old son to use it during his school holidays.

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But a request for age verification appeared, and the boy, without thinking, entered his ID number – which immediately locked the account. Result: even the dad can no longer play.

“These measures, it can to a certain extent reduce the playing time of minors,” concedes Mr. Peng.

“But for now” it’s only for one Tencent game and “you can always get around it by playing” on other platforms, he says.

Most parents welcome the new restrictions, however.

“If the children spend too much time playing, it will be bad for their eyesight,” said Ms. Wang, a 34-year-old Beijing woman.

But her 10-year-old son, who pulls her by the arm, does not share her opinion at all.

“Mom, it must be said that it is a bad decision! Why are they doing this to us? “

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