Should China’s Net Cafes Be Age-Restricted?


Chinese students are headed home (or already there) for the winter holiday break, and many of them are spending their free time playing games at internet cafes. This has led to a spirited discussion online about whether or not minors should be banned from internet cafes, with many adult gamers suggesting they should, but not for the reasons you might expect.

There are a lot of legitimate reasons to keep children out of internet cafes. They’re often unsupervised, they’re full of smoke and sometimes alcohol, and allowing a six-year-old to play League of Legends for 24 hours without adult supervision just generally seems like it probably isn’t good for the child’s physical or emotional health. But reading the discussion amongst adult Chinese gamers, it’s clear that another big reason many support banning kids from net cafes is that they’re sick of playing online games with children. Many complain that their online gaming experience gets noticeably worse on weekends and holidays, ostensibly because that’s when kids aren’t in school.

Having spent some time in China’s backwater internet cafes myself, I feel quite confident saying that some of them are no place for kids. To satisfy my insatiable need to check my email, in the days before I owned a smartphone I visited a couple “cafes” that were nearly pitch black even in daytime save the glowing screens illuminating chain-smoking shirtless twentysomethings browsing sexy photos or playing games and drinking beer. Not a great place for kids. At the same time, though, it’s important that children everywhere have access to computers and the internet, and in many parts of China, gaming-focused internet cafes are more or less the only option for any family that can’t afford to buy its own computer.

Given that, I wonder if it might make sense to establish children-only net cafes so that kids could play games and surf the web in a healthier and more supervised environment. Whether it could work economically would depend on local conditions, but that would seem to be best for all parties: children still get to play their games, their parents can breathe easy knowing they’re somewhere that’s a bit safer and more supervised, and adults can visit dedicated internet cafes where they can play their games without being overrun by children.

It doesn’t seem likely the government would implement age restrictions on internet cafes, but could a kids-only net cafe work? I’m not sure, but it does seem clear that letting the nation’s youth hang out it smoke-filled dark rooms while nearby adults browse photos of scantily-clad women probably isn’t the best approach to child-rearing.

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