Anyone who has spent any time on the Internet will understand what I mean when I say its easy to fall down a rabbit hole. Say you found the weird side of YouTube and ended up enjoying an extended stay there. Well, I managed to find the weird side of the world when I spotted a Backlog Critic article that stated China would give social credit strikes to video gamers. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The main sentiment is that China is working on a system which may reward members of society who have children and punish those who enjoy playing video games. The truth is stranger than fiction and is quite terrifying.
We can’t really talk about the potential impact on the gaming industry without first understanding exactly what “social credit” is and how it would have an effect on daily life. I poured over all kinds of articles and interviews to end up with what I hope is a fairly easy to understand rendition. Essentially, large financial conglomerates in China have begun creating systems that allow them, and the government in turn, to judge citizens based on a vast number of factors. The social credit system is mired in credit score systems that the western world knows and understands. If you don’t pay back a credit card debt or fee, your social credit score will go down. This is all well and good. If you don’t pay for a traffic ticket, your score will go down. Okay, still seeming pretty reasonable here. It’s when you get into the true “social” aspects of China’s social credit system that things start to look dire.
Things like forgetting to separate your recyclable items from your trash could lower your score. Not visiting your parents or other family members could lower your score. Having friends in your network with lower scores than you could be detrimental to your own standing. And relevant to us is that buying and playing video games can lower your score. As far as I can tell, your score as far as video games are concerned will only be if you buy or play them in excess, but what constitutes “excess” is up for debate. Financial companies and the government might have a very different idea of what excessive gaming is compared to what we do.
Now that we understand what might affect your score in China, let’s look at what that might do to you. If you have a high score, the rewards are as numerous as they are varied. You could rent a car without paying a deposit, be given a featured spotlight in dating apps, or bypass security lines at the airport. Those with low scores can be barred from buying plane or train tickets, sending their children to private school, or getting an apartment. Conclusively, everything you do in China could affect the ease of your life and your livelihood, as well as possibly those of your family members.
China’s financial corporations have their fingers in all kinds of other industries, like social media, grocery stores, doctors offices, city service providers, and bicycle rental services. If they don’t own a piece of all of those industries, they almost certainly at least have a favorable relationship with them. Pretty much everything you do can be tracked, logged, and then judged. Let’s plug video games into that equation now.
If you really like video games, but know you need to move to a new apartment in the near future for a job, you have a decision to make. You either give up video games leading up to the move or try to offset your purchases and usage with other more “favorable” options. These could include donating to charity, taking care of older family members, or befriending people with higher social credit scores. If you successfully offset your gaming with “socially profitable” purchases and actions, then you’re good to go. If you fail, then you could be denied the apartment you want or have to pay a higher than average deposit. Because according to the system you’ve been deemed a “lazy, idle, or untrustworthy” person. I feel like there’s a lot of air quotes in this paragraph, but I think you all understand why I’ve been using them.
As much as this all reads like science-fiction at best and conspiracy theories at worse, this is the reality that many Chinese citizens are already living with. The social credit system is in its infancy right now, but China wants to implement it across the board by as early as 2020. It’s hard to fathom how gaming culture and companies will survive in a country that punishes its citizens for enjoying them. Will the metaphorical example I listed above just become the norm? Like if you want to play an hour or two of Overwatch on Saturday, you’ll have to go volunteer at the soup kitchen for four hours on Sunday. It’s a bit of a hard pill to swallow, especially when you realize it could feasibly happen.
Let me conclude with a statement that bothered me in particular when I was researching this piece. The technology director at Sesame, one of China’s premiere financial corporations, made this statement in regards to the social credit system, “[playing video games] 10 hours a day… would be considered an idle person, and someone who frequently buys diapers would be considered as probably a parent, who on balance is more likely to have a sense of responsibility.” Jokingly I can’t help but think, “Okay, I’ll just buy diapers every so often and give them to a friend who needs them. That will off-set my gaming hobby.” But realistically, it’s frustrating and terrifying that simply living your life how you want it could lead to punishments. If being a child-less gamer makes you happy, you sure as hell won’t survive in modern China. Better move some place else! But first, you have to get your score high enough to be able to buy that plane ticket…
What do you think of China’s social credit score system? Do you think it could have rippling effects on the video game industry across the globe? Let me know in the comments!