Video gaming addiction is real and children need to be protected but how ethical is it for the government to ban it as a solution and what steps do companies need to take from their sides
Video games are back in the news but all for the wrong reasons. This time, the Chinese Communist Party has passed a law to further limit the video gaming time for minors. It has imposed a complete ban on video games during weekdays and has limited to only 1 hour per day on weekends (i.e., Fri, Sat, Sun).
The action has been taken on the genuine concerns from parents and teachers of gaming addicted children. Even World Health Organisation (WHO) identifies Video Gaming Addiction as a disorder. It characterizes it as, “impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”
Though, WHO defines video game addiction as a disorder it also states that “gaming disorder affects only a small proportion of people who engage in digital- or video-gaming activities.” It further suggests people should take precautions from their side to make sure their habit is not changing into an addiction.
The Chinese ban raises many questions for India as well. Indian people have shown similar concerns regarding online games at various points, last year, the popular mobile game PUBG was a matter of concern for Indian Parents.
Can the Chinese ban impact India? Can it inspire the Indian govt to take similar actions? Let’s see what the industry people have to say on the issue-
Siddharth Jain, Co-Founding Partner, PSL Advocates & Solicitors, informs, though the government setup of both the countries is different even the Indian govt has constitutional rights to put such restrictions, “under Article 19(6) of the Constitution, Government is well empowered to impose reasonable restrictions on the right to business, inter alia. We have already seen that, in the past, the Government imposed a complete ban on a certain category of online content and, in this case too, if it crosses to the other side, we should not be surprised to see online gaming being regulated.”
Rishi Anand, Partner, DSK Legal, adds to the discussion, “Unlike China, the Indian gaming industry (particularly mobile gaming) is regulated by archaic, pre-internet era gambling laws which are inconsistent across States and are yet to catch the pace with the digital and technological developments. Further, gaming addiction is only a small piece of the larger debate regarding digital or internet addiction which spans across social media platforms, video streaming platforms, etc. and not just in gaming. Therefore, a complete ban instead of a thoughtful regulatory intervention for a sunrise sector seems unrealistic at the moment.”
Soham Thacker, Founder, GamerJi, believes China’s move will have an impact on the Indian gaming industry says, “this move will bring in the regulation aspect which has been missing in the gaming space. Dedicated time for gaming will indirectly help the development of the industry by channelizing the gaming time to more focused gameplay, though giving that initial hit to the numbers.”
Though the govt has the right to take strict measures but playing the video game is an individual’s decision, it’s their right and decision to decide how they want to spend their time. Then how ethical is it for a govt to intervene in such personal matters? Matters which can also affect the growth of the gaming sector?
Anand informs about some recent decisions by the judiciary on similar cases, he says, “A law that seeks to impose the State’s notion of morality must pass the muster of constitutionality. The Madras High Court while quashing an amendment to the law that banned online games in Tamil Nadu, eloquently remarked that “pronounced and excessive paternalism is another definition for authoritarianism and may even amount to repression, particularly when a statute prohibits or restricts some activity that the individual may otherwise have complete and unrestricted freedom to indulge in”. Therefore, while effective checks and balances are imperative, blanket, disproportionate and excessive measures with a paternalistic State attitude and devoid of constitutional morality are unlikely to withstand the judicial scrutiny.”
Lawyer Sarthak Doshi, who specialises in gaming and sports law, shares a different perspective, “This is subjective. When the govt (China in this case) imposes a ban on the number of hours one (in this case, minors) can play games, it is coming from a good place. They don’t want their young population to succumb to gaming addiction. But, at the same time, if we see the move in light of the clam down the Chinese government has on technology companies (like Tencent and Alibaba), it is arguable that the ban is not purely unbiased.”
The responsibility also falls on the shoulders of these gaming companies. What can be the measures that a gaming company can take from their side?
Thacker argues for responsible gaming and suggests for campaigns to promote it, “game publishers can promote responsible gaming by controlling play hours and enhancing the age verification process for minors. Parental guidance should be strictly imposed on children carrying mobile phones that are compatible with certain addictive games. Also, the industry can unanimously run awareness campaigns to promote responsible gaming among children and software can be installed in devices for further regulations,” adds Thacker.