Groundbreaking big data research challenges effectiveness of gaming bans

A groundbreaking big data analysis of video gaming has challenged the effectiveness of putting restrictions on online game playing.

Beginning in 2019, the Chinese Government implemented a mandate which limited the numbers of hours video games could be played, with under 18s allowed 1.5hours of play a day, and 3 hours on public holidays. The Government felt excessive gaming was negatively impacting physical and mental health of young people.

THUMB teen gamer

The study, published in Nature Human Behaviour draws on data of more than seven billion hours of playtime in mainland China, and found that there was no evidence that these restrictions reduced the prevalence of heavy play in these games.  

De Montfort University Leicester (DMU)’s Dr Catherine Flick was part of the team who conducted the study. She said that this case study carried a lesson for countries considering trying to implement regulatory measures aimed at reducing online game time, particularly among young people.  

She said: “This research shows the importance of having access to large datasets to drive evidence-based policy, as governments around the world look to the Chinese playtime mandate as a case study of public policymaking.” 

The notion that video gaming has an impact on wellbeing – whether positive or negative - is one which has long attracted criticism; while some argue it leads to social isolation and is a public health issue, others see games as having more positive effects, such as being a good way of releasing stress.

Given the prevalence of gaming, it is no wonder that governments globally are assessing whether there is a need for wellbeing-related regulation, and if so, what form that might take.  

Researchers conducted two separate analyses using more than seven billion hours’ worth of playtime data. They looked at 2.4 billion gamer profiles to see if they were playing heavily before and after the ban was introduced, and conducted a longitudinal analysis to see if individual gamers played less heavily after the controls were introduced.  

They wrote: “This paper suggests there might be a more fundamental underlying issue with such policies: they may be ineffective at causing intended changes to behaviour. This finding has important implications for the regulation of online gaming across the world. In analogous domains such as gambling, pornography and nicotine use, restriction of online youth access via mandatory bans has been associated with substantial regulatory escape. Here we show that a similar phenomenon may be occurring in the video game domain as well.” 

The research team also included David Zendle and Elena Gordon-Petrovskaya of the University of York, Nick Ballou of Queen Mary University London, Leon Y. Xiao of the IT University of Copenhagen, and Professor Anders Drachen of the SDU Metaverse Lab, University of Southern Denmark, all members of the Digital Observatory Research Cluster


Posted on Friday 11 August 2023

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