How U.S. Video Game Companies Are Building Tools for China’s Surveillance State

An eSports gamer plays League of Legends during training for the League of Legends World Championship at a boot camp in Shanghai on Sept. 20, 2017. (Credit: CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/Getty Images)

An eSports gamer plays League of Legends during training for the League of Legends World Championship at a boot camp in Shanghai on Sept. 20, 2017. (Credit: CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/Getty Images)

Last October, software developers at Riot Games in Santa Monica fielded an unusual request. Like other video game makers, Riot’s success depends on its ability to make games that are compulsively playable, like its global hit “League of Legends.” But Tencent, the Chinese tech giant that owns Riot, needed a way to force some of its most enthusiastic customers to play less.

While it has owned a controlling stake in Riot since 2011, Tencent has generally been hands-off when it comes to the company’s products. But facing increasing pressure from Chinese state media and regulators over its role in a supposed epidemic of video game addiction, Tencent needed a way to track how much time individual gamers in China spent playing “League of Legends” — and kick out minors who exceeded two hours per day. If Riot engineers didn’t supply an “anti-addiction system” for “League of Legends,” they might lose access to the Chinese market altogether.

Within weeks, an update brought these features to the Chinese version of “League of Legends.”

Over the last year, one game company after another has quietly acceded to Chinese government demands to limit the amount of time young people spend on their games. Chinese players of American hits such as “League of Legends,” “Fortnite” and “World of Warcraft” are having their playtime tracked according to their national ID number. Those under 18 face heavy in-game penalties or outright expulsions if they play too long.

Read the full story on LATimes.com.

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