China to clean up online games amid addiction woes

China has already shut down 45 online games and will target others for violence and pornographic material

Chinese authorities have promised to clean the country's online gaming industry of "unhealthy" content such as violence and pornography, asserting more control over use of the Internet in the country.

The country's publication regulator will conduct a "thorough probe and cleanup" of online games this year and shut down games that have not received official approval, state media said Friday.

The probe will include check-ups on the anti-addiction controls, such as limiting the amount of game play for minors, that China requires in online games, said the official Xinhua news agency. Online game operators in China must apply for a government license for each game and can be ordered to remove content found unacceptable by censors.

The campaign follows growing concern in China about teenagers obsessed with online games such as World of Warcraft, which has fueled a boom in the country for expensive, boot-camp style treatment centers for young Web addicts. It also follows a government crackdown against online porn and tools such as virtual private networks (VPNs) that savvy locals use to access Twitter, YouTube and other Web sites blocked in China.

Regulators have already shut down 45 unlicensed online games that were developed outside of China, including one mafia game called Omerta, or "America 1930" in Chinese, and over 200 games have been investigated in total, Xinhua said. The mafia game lets players build their rank through criminal activities such as stealing cars and organizing jailbreaks.

The publication regulator on its Web site also warned foreign companies against operating online games themselves in China.

Chinese health officials over the weekend named online games as the main cause of Internet addiction in the country, according to statement on the ministry's Web site. Most children labeled as Internet addicts in China are teenagers, but a recent government study said it found over one in 10 Chinese primary school students show signs of the condition.

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Owen Fletcher

IDG News Service
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