Sunday, July 25, 2021

China’s ‘midnight patrol’ goes live in crackdown on young gamers posing as adults

Children have been using fake IDs to get around a government gaming curfew.

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Chinese gaming giant Tencent is rolling out facial recognition to stop children breaking curfew and playing between 10pm and 8am.

The “midnight-patrol” technology will stop children using tricks to get around the government curfew introduced in 2019 with a cap on what young gamers can spend on in-game transactions, Dot Esports is reporting.

The bans require gamers to register with their official IDs, linked to a national database but children have reportedly been using adults’ IDs instead of their own.

From now on, anyone playing for a certain length of time will require a facial scan to prove they are an adult.

Tencent started testing the system in 2018, and it will now cover more than 60 games from the world’s biggest game company.

The company announced the expansion on China’s QQ messaging service, calling it “zero-hours cruising”, which China news site Sixth Tone translated as “midnight patrol”.

“We will conduct a face screening for accounts registered with real names and that have played for a certain period of time at night,” Tencent said today. “Anyone who refuses or fails the face verification will be treated as a minor, and as outlined in the anti-addiction supervision of Tencent’s game health system, kicked offline.”

Many of Tencent’s top titles, such as Honour of Kings and Game for Peace, are for phones as mobile gaming is far more popular in China than the West.

Facial recognition is easier to implement using a phone camera than on a computer or games console.

Age checks using cameras are already being suggested to verify users’ age for online sales of adult products.

The World Health Organization formally recognised gaming addiction in 2018, and the following year, Britain’s National Health Service introduced treatment plans for what is seen as a rare disorder affecting only a small proportion of hardcore gamers.

But in China, video games have often been accused of having a negative impact on young people, including near-sightedness in children.

In a bid to tackle what China considers “problem” gaming, all new titles must be approved by a regulator, which in 2018 “froze” releases and has since appeared to limit their numbers.

Dot Esports comments that the new system could force underaged gamers to play elsewhere and use virtual private networks to bypass facial recognition and switch to unregulated Hong Kong or Taiwanese servers until they finally come of age.

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