Many players in China’s gaming industry agree that games have drawbacks. The country’s most popular games are designed for smartphones and are free, meaning companies make them live and die depending on how they attract users and charge them for extras. Game makers have become experts at hooking gamers.
But top-down attempts to wean children from games – what state media have called “poison” and “spiritual pollution” – have at times been worse than the problem itself. Bootcamps fond of military discipline have multiplied. The same is true of Chinese media accounts of abuses, such as beatings, electroshock therapy, and solitary confinement.
Even the country’s past ban on consoles like the PlayStation made matters worse, Shi said. This ban has helped propel the popularity of free mobile games. Studios selling console games are motivated to create high quality games, like blockbuster movies. This is not the case, he said, with the free games, which are motivated to maximize what they can get out of the players.
For Mr. Shi, the government’s new limits are similar to those his mother placed on him growing up. During the week, his PlayStation 2 remained locked in a cupboard. Every record he bought was scrutinized. Many of them were deemed inappropriate.
When he got to college, he entered a period he called “recovery,” trying to make up for the years when he had hard limits. Even now, he sometimes indulges in his gambling habits or spends more than he should. What’s important to understand, he said, is that for a generation that grew up largely without siblings, many with parents who worked late, video games offered a portal to a social world beyond the stagnation of academic pressures.
“After school I finished dinner on my own, and it looks pathetic. But what made it less pathetic was that I had my playing friends, ”he said. He remembers that when his parents prevented him from playing games, he would go online and watch other people play.
“Banning people from doing something doesn’t mean people will do what you want them to do,” he said.