China should adopt own age ratings for games

By Xu Hailin Source:Global Times Published: 2019/1/2 17:48:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

China announced a thaw in its nine-month freeze in examining and approving video games on December 21 during a game industry annual conference. A long applause at the scene showed the game professionals' desire for good news to revitalize the industry, which has been through a cold winter.

After a hiatus in video game approvals since March due to an organizational reform, about 42 percent of game companies saw their incomes shrink, with revenue slashed by more than 1 billion yuan ($145 million) for four companies.

It is a sad truth that Chinese authorities don't consider the game industry as important as others, even though about 626 million Chinese people play video games, and the total sales revenue for games in 2018 was about 214.4 billion yuan.

Without permission from authorities, no new games are allowed to be released. Can you imagine what would happen to the movie industry and how people would react if all new films were banned for nine months?

The announcement about resumed game approvals rocketed industry giant Tencent's stock price up by 4.51 percent in the same day, bringing its founder, chairman and executive officer Ma Huateng back to the leading position in the Chinese fortune rankings.

In addition to Chinese game companies, South Korean companies including Nexon and Netmarble and Japanese companies like Capcom and Square Enix all saw their shares soar following the announcement. Foreign companies are looking forward to bringing their new games to China, which boasts a huge market with great potential.

Despite the positive feedback, the path to releasing new games in China will still be bumpy as examination of game content could become even stricter than it was prior to the suspension.

Once again, game industry insiders appealed to bring in age ratings for games, which have been adopted internationally and work well. The systems are used to ensure that games are clearly labeled with a minimum age recommendation based on their content.

These age ratings provide guidance to consumers, parents in particular, to help them decide whether or not to buy a particular product for a child.

China's current game approval system allows no flexibility. Any controversial content is banned and, as a result, even adults, who are mature and already have formed values, have no access to these products.

China's current rating system for game content examination is not fully developed, but it is not contradictory to foreign age ratings systems. Even in countries with developed game industries, like the US and Japan, there are different versions of games with varying levels of violence and blood in accordance with local laws. For instance, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 - an action game for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 rated for adults only - has more violent frames in the US, allowing dismemberment of enemies' bodies, while such scenes are not found in copies sold in Japan.

The absence of age ratings is one of the factors that has led to monotonous and homogeneous content in Chinese games, said Zhang Zhuo, a Beijing-based game industry insider and a former employee at Tencent. "Clear age ratings and strict legislation and law enforcement to assure the ratings would give designers more room to develop games with cultural diversity."

Meanwhile, we must not overlook China's current social situation when considering adopting the age rating systems of the West. Will the age ratings really limit teenagers from accessing games that are inappropriate for them? Will the ratings made for well-educated people be suitable for those with limited education?

China is a large country with huge population and obvious gaps in education among people. China's traditional culture is different from that of the Western world, so the country shouldn't simply adopt a ready-made system, but figure out its own way.

For the moment, in the first step to achieve the goal, authorities should consider launching clear and transparent content examination standards to regulate the industry.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times. Reporter Liu Xuanzun also contributes to this article.

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