Recent stories about gaming addiction have permeated some of the worst parts of the press, and within esports the reaction to them has been about what you’d expect. The people with the best interests of the industry at heart are slowly learning which publications can be trusted and which will hang you out to dry faster than you can say "deliberately misquoted". Today, we were shown a good example of the danger of misinformation when applied to the world of gaming.
In China, the government has more control over the world of business than we are used to in the West, and the most important business to a lot of us esports folks is Tencent.
Owners of a number of esports titles, as well as games such as PUBG and many mobile products, the company is huge across China. In esports terms, they currently have great influence as the owners of own Riot, the company that publishes League of Legends, and have benefited significantly from their slightly shady relationship with the government in China to this point.
Tencent’s valuation has taken a massive hit this year based almost entirely on moves made by the Chinese government that are aimed at improving the health of the nation. The Ministry of Education has introduced new regulations based on an apparent increase in vision issues, and specifically nearsightedness, in China. As a result, the Ministry of Education wants to clamp down on mobile gaming, heavy study loads and lack of exercise, as they believe this will curb the growing issue of nearsightedness in young people.
Now, if you were au fait with Chinese culture and the way the nation has developed, you’ll know that it has one of the worst ratings for air quality in the world, and between 2000 and 2008 the already poor water quality actually got worse, at a time when the Chinese rich were definitely getting richer.
Reports from five years ago showed Chinese people were becoming more sedentary too, as lifestyles – at least in developed areas – began to mirror those seen in the more obese Western nations. Similarly, cancers related to smoking and ill health were on the rise in 2013, long before this video game problem reared its head, with doctors saying aggressive control of tobacco was needed to curb the issue.
Instead, China is looking to reduce the amount of time young people spend playing video games. This follows the decision taken by the government in April to stop authorising new mobile game releases, which of course meant that Tencent, partial owners of Activision Blizzard and Epic Games, were suddenly prevented from making cash off PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.
While there may be a link between mobile gaming and eye issues, the practice of spending hours at a time looking at a screen is far from exclusive to gamers. Sadly, gaming is the hot topic right now, so rather than look at long-term ways to help solve this issue, it seems that the Ministry has just picked gaming out of a hat as the reason, and decided to clamp down on that, hurting one of their biggest companies in the process.
None of this is written in defence of infinite mobile gaming, but instead in defence veracity, and robust research. Just as the BBC have ruined their own credibility with a series of high-profile attacks on esports that were clearly based on deliberate misinformation, China risks being seen as hostile to an industry that they have so far embraced, and are set to benefit more from in the next year, too.
With millions of Chinese children, and billions of kids worldwide set to grow up in a world where gaming is an increasing fact of reality, it is therefore important to identify the risks where they exist, and judge people not only on their actions, but their intentions. Connecting one aspect of mobile use with a national health problem, while ignoring many other factors, is precisely the opposite.