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China Being China

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By Nelson Schneider - 11/10/19 at 03:20 PM CT

This week, news broke that China will be implementing strict new regulations on videogame playing for minors. These regulations include a 90 minute/day gaming quota on schooldays, an online gaming curfew of 10:00PM every night, and a micro/macro-transaction budget of $57USD equivalent/month, as relayed by the New York Times. Allegedly, the Chinese government is worried about an uptick in so-called game addiction and an epidemic of nearsightedness amongst its younger citizens, while at least some older Chinese citizens have kibitzed that videogaming is drawing young people away from sports, and that China should focus on building more stadiums. Clearly these thoughts are the products of fevered minds that somehow think that playing sportsball is less of a waste of time than playing videogames (likely out of an archaic belief that dominating at the Olympic games actually means anything), and are willing to deny the fact that being Han Chinese causes nearsightedness.

However, strict gaming regulation is nothing new to China. For 15 years, between 2000 and 2015, console gaming was completely illegal in the Totalitarian superpower. But, as with natural ecosystems, where there is an unfilled niche or void, something will rise to fill it. Thus, with the ouster of consoles, PC gaming rose to complete dominance in China, replete with copyright infringement and game sharing via illegal downloads and pirated disc sales. The up-and-coming Chinese tech sector had to come up with something to compete with free in order to push their own games on Chinese players, thus the Freemium economy was born, with Free2Play games riddled with additional payments filtering their way through South Korea and Japan before hitting the West like a moist cowpie and ruining things forever.

This toxic stew of Freemium PC games and Internet Café-driven e-sports primed the Chinese market, so that, when smartphones officially infiltrated China in 2012 (minus all of those icky Western things like Google and its associated app store), there was no resistance, and Chinese gamers took up Freemium mobile gaming in droves, with over half the total Chinese market for videogames today taking the form of mobile games. Today, China as a ‘mobile-first’ gaming economy, with big corporate conglomerations like Tencent pushing Chinese flavors of successful mobile archetypes, while the Chinese government simultaneously works to keep Western influence out, while reshaping any foreign products it does deign to allow to fit China’s (read: its own) unique sensibilities.

At first, the Chinese government’s heavy-handed regulations on videogaming seem draconian. But in recent years, we’ve seen plenty of people in the Western media crying out for our own governments to regulate lootboxes and predatory Freemium games that target children, because intentionally creating a generation of compulsive gamblers is deplorable, and no videogame corporation – I’m looking at you, EA – should be allowed to do it without government oversight. And since China’s videogame market is overwhelmingly propped up by these very same things, their government may actually be in the right here.

The worst part of this Chinese regulatory debacle hitting the news, though, is that ignorant, illiterate Westerners who know nothing of history will blame it on Communism. This is in spite of the fact that the Communist Revolution actually failed in China (as it did everywhere else). China has been a Capitalist nation since the late ‘70s or early ‘80s. And even the Totalitarian, Authoritarian, Orwellian Big Brother that is the Chinese government isn’t truly a holdover from Chairman Mao’s Communist Revolution… it’s how China’s government has always been, dating all the way back to the Chin Dynasty in the third century B.C.E., as detailed in the fantastic multi-part PBS documentary, “The Story of China.” China’s much maligned Social Credit system, which the government aims to completely roll out by the end of next year, isn’t even anything new, but is actually a direct descendant of ancient Chinese oversight systems. Ancient Chinese clay bricks are each stamped with the name of the individual brickmaker as well as the brickmaker’s supervisor, so that if/when a bad batch of bricks made its way to the Emperor’s great works site, government officials would know exactly who messed up and where to find them so the errant brickmaker and his incompetent supervisor could be punished. There is nothing new under the Sun.

After thousands of years of dealing with this type of guff in near total isolation from the rest of the world, is it any wonder the Chinese citizens don’t really seem to care? It is only Chinese provinces like Taiwan and Hong Kong, which have experienced a taste of Western-style Enlightenment-era freedom due to their former status as colonies, where resentment toward the government exists. Traditionally, China has been a very inward-looking nation, dealing with its own issues internally and never looking outward with a lust for conquest gleaming in its metaphorical eye. Yet in this modern world where China and the Enlightened West are coming into increasing ideological conflict, and China’s traditional methods of government are met with increasing criticism from its own people, we may soon reach a breaking point where something drastic happens. Capitalist China has developed a love for conquest, and when the world’s largest economy puts its foot down, if the West doesn’t present a wholly united front, we all may find ourselves subject to the will of the ancient Chin Emperors. We’re already seeing it in companies like Epic Games and Blizzard… what happens when it spreads beyond videogames?

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