China's Video-Game Crackdown Gives America an Edge
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- China is not a fan of video games. Earlier this week, a government agency announced new rules that would restrict the time that minors’ can play online games to about three hours a week — down drastically from a prior limit of roughly 10 hours. Beijing has said the constraints were imposed to protect its youth from becoming addicted to gaming and getting distracted from their studies. But are games really so dangerous to young minds?
I don’t think so.
For decades, critics have called gaming a detriment to society without any hard proof. The negativity is an antiquated view that doesn’t match reality. In fact, there is increasing evidence that video games can be beneficial in several areas. Let’s start with the basics: Most parents know that games such as Microsoft Corp.’s Minecraft and Roblox Corp.’s platform can stimulate thinking, spark creativity and help develop problem-solving skills:
But that’s just the beginning. Powerful technology titans have credited video games for putting them on a path to success. In 2015, Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said he would never have gotten into programming if he hadn’t played games when he was younger, adding that his passion for making games developed his technical skills. And it’s not just coding. Gaming can help people advance in their professional careers. Shopify Inc. CEO Tobi Lutke said he has learned more about effectively running a business from playing Starcraft — a modern-day version of chess where players allocate resources with incomplete information — than he ever attained from reading books. “Strategy games look simple but they teach you complex system decision-making in a way that not much else can,” he posted on social media. Researchers have backed up the claim: According to one academic study, performance in strategy games can indicate managerial competence among job applicants.
In a way, Zuckerberg and Lutke’s stories are similar to my own. Video games were instrumental in sparking my life-long interest in technology. When I was younger, I built a new computer nearly every year, mostly so I could figure out how to use the latest chip advancements to get the best performance from the latest Doom or Quake game. I wouldn’t be here today without my interest in gaming.
It seems many lack understanding of what gaming entails today. Compared with passively watching television, it is an active experience where players can learn how to make smart decisions under pressure. I have played hundreds of hours of a game called Counter-Strike, in which every round requires constant game-theory-type thinking to anticipate what the opponent will do next, along with real-time verbal collaboration with team members on tactics to win. It’s not just “twitch” ability or playing Ms. Pac-Man anymore. These are skills that are useful in life. And today’s multiplayer games are also the means by which many young adults hang out with their friends. In the past, they may have attended a weekly poker game. Now, they catch up by playing Epic Games Inc.’s Fortnite together.
Beyond all these things, there’s the future: China’s crackdown means its kids face the increasing prospect of falling behind their American counterparts in getting exposure to critical areas of innovation. Gaming has been the driving force behind numerous technologies, including graphics semiconductors, artificial intelligence, digital art and animation. The industry is already a massive market that is only going to get bigger. According to research firm Newzoo, nearly 3 billion people will spend about $176 billion this year, rising to $219 billion by 2024. And when the all-encompassing “metaverse” finally arrives with its fully functioning digital economy, you can bet gamers will have the leg up inside the virtual worlds.
That is not to say the gaming doesn’t have issues. Addiction is a real problem for some players who can’t moderate their activity. Regulators should scrutinize some of the industry’s aggressive monetization practices. But the overall benefits should not be understated. Gaming is a vibrant entertainment hobby that brings joy and makes positive contributions to professional and social lives.
If you want your children to become the next Zuckerberg or Lutke, don’t take away their video games. You may want to encourage them to play more instead.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Tae Kim is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering technology. He previously covered technology for Barron's, following an earlier career as an equity analyst.
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