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Ratings for Online Games Urged in China

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Young Internet users may soon find their access to violent online games unplugged.

Under a system similar to film classification, the Ministry of Culture is planning to introduce a rating system for online content, including games, that would only allow players older than a certain age to join in.

"We will ask the game operators to improve the rules of their game, adjust product structure and crack down on vulgar style. We need to raise the cultural content in online games," said Tuo Zuhai, deputy director of the marketing department at the ministry.

"Enhancing the content of online games is the current focal point of our work," he said at China's Seventh International Digital Content Expo.

Some netizens, however, have questioned the feasibility of the ministry's plan and the likelihood of it accomplishing its goals.

"I wonder if it's possible," a netizen named Flowerci posted on the game section of, a popular online forum.

"The film classification system has not even been successfully implemented in China, and the Internet is even more complicated than film," Flowerci said.

China's Internet industry has developed rapidly in the last decade. According to research from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the number of China's netizens has surpassed 300 million. More than half of them are younger than 25 years old.

Those younger netizens are the targeted group of online games, which explains why sociologists and other professionals are insisting on a classification system to limit the youths' access to bloody, violent and obscene content, just as the film classification system attempts to do.

"In the period of immaturity, youths are particularly curious about sex," Tao Hongkai, a guest professor of Huazhong Normal University, said on a Topics of Focus program on State broadcaster CCTV on November 6.

"Even if there are no graphic rape pictures and scenes in the game, the design of the woman characters with scanty clothes also stimulates the youths," he said.

He has heard of cases where online players later meet in real life and their online relationship affects how they expect the other person to behave, potentially leading to problems.

While experts say keeping young people away from certain sites is a positive move, netizens wonder how the system would actually keep them from accessing the sites.

"How can the Internet classification be possible without a working real-name system? Who knows my age on the Internet? I may even use my parents' ID to pass the check during the registration," another netizen named Talenteer questioned.

The number of online players in China has reached 217 million and the sales revenue has reached 20.8 billion yuan (US$3 billion) in 2008, making China the world's second largest online games market after the United States.

Unlike their players, however, at least one operator of an online game is welcoming the government initiative.

"This is a very welcome system," said Serena Shao, a game planner at Our Game Co., Ltd.

"It even helps us to satisfy our customers. For example, we will be able to add different elements depending on the age of our players," Shao said.

"Some elements may not be suitable for youths but OK for adults," she explained. "In this case, the playability of online games could be raised as well."

China's online game market has benefitted from the rapid development of the Internet as well.

China's online game revenues are expected to hit 73.1 billion yuan (US$10.7 billion) in three years, driven by growing Internet penetration in the world's most populous country, reported Reuters.

The Ministry of Culture also posted a statement on its website on November 13, ordering the online game operators to limit virtual marriages and player-versus-player combat content. Ministry officials asked them to enhance socialist values in the games.

(China Daily December 8, 2009)

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