A recent study challenges the presumed effectiveness of China’s regulations on gaming hours for young individuals, suggesting that these restrictions may not be as impactful as initially believed.

Led by the University of York, a research group delved into over 7 billion hours of gaming activity across a diverse range of games to evaluate the real-world impact of China’s playtime limits. Drawing data from more than two billion user accounts in China, where legal gaming hours have been enforced for the youth since 2019, the study’s findings did not reveal a decrease in intensive gaming despite the introduction of these regulations.

With the global gaming industry experiencing unprecedented popularity, encompassing an estimated 4 billion participants each year, concerns have arisen across countries regarding the potential impact of excessive gaming on the well-being of young people. To address these concerns, China implemented restrictions on playtime for individuals under 18 in 2019.

Dr. David Zendle from the University of York’s Department of Computer Science emphasized the significance of this research in assessing the impact of gaming on the youth: “The restrictions in China allowed us to look, for the first time, at the real behavioral impact of regulation on reducing the time people spent in gameplay and whether this policy had the desired effect. We found no evidence of a decrease in the prevalence of heavy play, and more research is needed to understand why.”

While China took pioneering steps in enacting legal limitations on gaming hours for young individuals, the research challenges the effectiveness of these measures in addressing the potential risks of excessive gaming on well-being. The study underscores the importance of independent, data-driven research in evaluating the outcomes of public policy in the digital realm.

Leon Y. Xiao from the IT University of Copenhagen highlighted the necessity of unbiased research to assess policy decisions, especially when dealing with technology regulation: “Given previous industry-affiliated claims that this policy has ‘solved video game addiction,’ it made sense in a Chinese context to consider scaling it up to other domains. These results now suggest that the potential effectiveness of such policymaking could benefit from being monitored by non-industry-affiliated, independent researchers.”

This research introduces a data-driven approach to evaluate the impact of public policy on gaming, marking a significant step in understanding the real-world implications of regulatory measures. The study’s conclusions arrive at a time when global efforts to regulate technology’s impact on society are gaining momentum, with various countries implementing measures such as the UK’s Online Safety Bill, the European Parliament’s rules on in-game purchases, and the ongoing efforts to regulate social media in the USA.

Professor Anders Drachen from the University of Southern Denmark underscored the potential of data-driven analysis in shaping effective technology regulation: “It is now possible to tractably analyze billions of hours of digital behavioral data, which can help lead to a better understanding of how to develop effective policies around online behavior. This study is an example of how we can use such data to assess whether a policy actually impacts citizens or companies in the way it is intended to.”

By Impact Lab