Many in the Chinese game industry agree that games have some drawbacks. The country’s most popular games are designed for smartphones and are free to play, which means that companies let them live and die depending on how well they attract users and make them pay for extras. The game makers have become experts in captivating gamers.
But top-down attempts to wean children off games – what state media has labeled “poison” and “spiritual pollution” – have sometimes been worse than the problem itself. Bootcamps with a bias towards military discipline have spread. So did Chinese media reports of abuses such as beatings, electroconvulsive therapy and solitary confinement.
Even the country’s past ban on consoles like the PlayStation made things worse, Mr Shi said. This ban helped increase the popularity of free mobile games. Studios that sell games for consoles are motivated to make high quality games like blockbuster movies. Not so, he said, with free-to-play games that are motivated to get the most out of the players.
For Mr. Shi, the government’s new boundaries are similar to those his mother imposed on him when he was growing up. On weekdays, his PlayStation 2 was locked in a closet. Every CD he bought has been checked. Many of them were deemed inappropriate.
When he got into college he went into what he called “repayment” trying to make amends for the years of strict boundaries. Even now, he sometimes indulges his gambling habits or spends more than he should. It is important to understand, he said, that for a generation that grew up largely without siblings, many with parents who worked late, video games provided a portal to a social world beyond school pressures.
“After school I would finish dinner alone and it sounds pathetic. But what made it less pathetic was that I had my gaming friends, ”he said. He remembered that when his parents stopped him from playing, he would go online and watch others play.
“Forbidding people to do something doesn’t mean that people will do what you want them to do,” he said.