Why is China trying to game the gamers?

Why is China trying to game the gamers?

This week, the market value of Tencent, China's biggest video game company, nosedived after a state media outlet suggested that online gaming was as addictive and destructive as opium. Tencent immediately pledged to cap the number of hours people can play, and to keep minors off its platforms.

It's the latest example of a months-long crackdown on major Chinese technology firms that until recently were viewed as some of the world's most powerful and successful companies, as well as a source of national pride. Beijing's about-face on its own tech titans could have big implications for China, and beyond.


Who's being targeted? First they came for billionaire Jack Ma, who was fined a whopping $2.8 billion for alleged antitrust violations and stopped from launching Ant Group, part of his Alibaba empire, as the world's biggest IPO. The value of its stock has plummeted since.

Then Beijing imposed sweeping restrictions on cryptocurrency trading, perceived as being too volatile... right as China (wink-wink) is pushing its own digital yuan as a reliable alternative.

After that, it was the turn of ride-hailing app Didi, which — on the eve of its American IPO — had its offices raided by state security agents for collecting more data on passengers than Beijing was comfortable leaving in the hands of a private firm. Next, for-profit tutoring giants were taken offline for skewing college admission odds towards the kids of rich families who can afford the help.

Now, it's the gamers' turn.

Why all the fuss? Beijing has all these companies in its crosshairs because they do at least one of three things Xi Jinping doesn't seem to like: they've become too big too fast, have gathered too much data, or are making too much money at the expense of social stability.

At a time of rising inequality in China, being rich is no longer, in Deng Xiaoping's own words, "glorious."

Here are two ways to understand what's going on.

One prevailing narrative — especially in the West — is that Xi is bullying large, rich companies because he is simply an authoritarian party boss who wants to stop any tech mogul or company from becoming too influential for the ruling Communist Party. Some argue that Xi would rather put the likes of Alibaba, Didi, or Tencent in their place — and perhaps out of business altogether — than let them become rival power centers. That's especially true if US stock market listings open up sources of financing and influence for these companies from Beijing's number one rival.

But another reading is that he is using his terrible powers for an understandable purpose. After decades of breakneck growth and corporate enrichment, China is reining in companies in the interest of social harmony over infinite growth. From this perspective, Xi is astutely flexing the one-party state's (considerable) muscle to nip social ills like inequality, monopoly, or gaming-induced apathy in the bud before they become horrific political problems like in the West.

In fact, at a time when many countries want to regulate tech firms but can't do so expediently as democracies, Beijing is — as far as this argument goes — ahead of the curve. In other words, by cracking down on tech behemoths Xi's acting less like Joseph Stalin than like trust-buster Teddy Roosevelt.

Xi has found an unexpected ally in Chinese youth, who are otherwise tired of their parents and the government ganging up on them over playing video games. There's a #MeToo angle — Tencent is one of several tech firms linked to Kris Wu, a famous singer accused of sexually assaulting multiple women. In cancelling him, young Chinese and the CCP have found common ground: the youth hate Wu for being a sexual predator, while the party generally despises the celebrity obsession culture tech companies rake in billions from.

What do you think? Is Xi using his power for good or bad reasons? Let us know here.

Additional reporting by Ziyu Wu.

An aerial view of a forest of trees

From accelerating our net zero timeline to creating digital tools for more sustainable consumer choice, Mastercard is working to build a more sustainable and inclusive digital economy. Watch and learn how we’re uniting in climate action with our network of banking customers, merchants and consumers – and helping to reforest the planet through the Priceless Planet Coalition.

A year of Biden

Joe Biden’s first year as US president included two major historic accomplishments and a series of (often bitter) disappointments that has his party headed toward likely defeat in November’s midterm elections. Biden’s own political future is increasingly uncertain.

More Show less
Hard Numbers: Angry Spanish farmers, South Korea foots Iran’s UN bill, China tests Taiwanese air defense, Turkish journalist jailed

4.7 billion: Spanish farmers protested on Sunday in Madrid against the leftwing coalition government's agricultural and environmental policies, which they claim are depopulating rural areas. No way, says the government, which has set aside $4.7 billion to stop the rural exodus.

More Show less
Two children and a robot. We have to control AI before it controls us, warns former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

Listen: Tech companies set the rules for the digital world through algorithms powered by artificial intelligence. But does Big Tech really understand AI? Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt tells Ian Bremmer that we need to control AI before it controls us.

What's troubling about AI, he says, is that it’s still very new, and AI is learning by doing. Schmidt, co-author of “The Age of AI: And Our Human Future,” worries that AI exacerbates problems like anxiety, driving a human addiction cycle that leads to depression.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

COVID has accelerated our embrace of the digital world. The thing is, we don't always know who’s running it.

Instead of governments, Ian Bremmer says, so far a handful of Big Tech companies are writing the rules of digital space — through computer algorithms powered by artificial intelligence.

The problem is that tech companies have set something in motion they don't fully understand, nor control.

More Show less

If omicron makes cases explode in China, the country's leaders will have to choose between weathering short-term or long-term pain.

Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, predicts that sticking to the zero-COVID approach at all costs will hurt the Chinese and global economy. In his view, learning to live with the virus is the way to go.

More Show less
The Graphic Truth: How do US presidents do in their first year?

Joe Biden's approval rating has taken a big hit during his first year as US president. Biden is now just slightly more popular than his predecessor Donald Trump at the same point in his presidency. While Biden has made a series of policy and political blunders that might be reflected in polling, this is also a sign of the times: US politics are now so polarized that presidential approval has a low ceiling. We compare the approval ratings of the last five US presidents in their first year.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi in Moscow, Russia January 19, 2022.

Iran and Russia heart each other. The presidents of Iran and Russia have little in common personally, but they share many geopolitical interests, including in Afghanistan and Syria. They also have a common resolve in countering "the West.” These issues are all on the agenda as Vladimir Putin and Ebrahim Raisi held their first in-person meeting in Moscow. Raisi is a hardline cleric who leads a theocracy with nuclear ambitions. Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, is a wily autocrat who enjoys provoking America and Europe, and has ambitions to return to the glory days of the territorially expansive Soviet Union — as seen with the Kremlin's recent provocations on the Ukrainian border. With the Iran nuclear talks on life support and Joe Biden already bracing for Russian troops crossing into Ukraine, Tehran and Moscow now have even more reasons to scheme and cooperate. Indeed, Moscow and Tehran have increasingly been cooperating on energy and security issues (Iran might be buying Russian military technology) as their respective relations with the West deteriorate.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

A year of Biden

Signal

Can we control AI before it controls us?

GZERO World Clips

Should China learn to live with COVID?

GZERO World Clips

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal