China: Gamers need not worry over new real name rules

News sites, BBSes and microblogs are just a few of the current or past (#fail) parts of the Internet in China which have been slated for one form of real name registration or another.

On July 1, owners of online stores across the country are expected to go real-name, and for China's tens of millions of online gamerz, it was announced last week that as of August 1, registration with a valid resident identity card will be required to get back in the game.

Opposition to the latter plan has been relatively muted in spaces such as comment sections on news stories [zh] carrying the details of the forthcoming regulations and even in forums popular with gamers. Others, however, wonder [zh] if this is the beginning of the end of easy online anonymity in general.

Photo from Daniel Lunsford's Flickr stream

Not blogger Mu San; while he predicts problems [zh] with this approach to implementation of real name registration, the potential for privacy violations aside, in his view they won't necessarily have much impact on the end user:


I remember the online game anti-addiction system that came out last year, but the effects of that weren't very obvious. Now, today, with the arrival of a real-name Internet system, people are waiting to see what the result will be. Reportedly, the online game real-name system will have three components: first will be the registration system, in which players will provide information of their identity; the second will be an inquiry system open to the public which will allow parents to check which games their children are playing as well as online status; the third is an authentication system, used in coordination by police to verify information on registered users. If users are discovered registering using a false identity, players’ ranking, experience level and in-game property will be reset to zero. I don't know, is a policy like this going to be good or bad?



Parents can carry out real time surveillance

According to guidelines for implementation of the online real name system, aside from that players, from now on, will be required to provide authentic information when registering for games, parents will also be able to check their children's online status.

As such, parents will be able to know in real time what their children are doing online; what convenient supervision! With the premise of the earlier online game anti-addiction system being that players were kept from gaming for more than five consecutive hours on any day, this new plan is yet another barrier against online game addiction, or at least in theory; as for how effective it proves we'll have to wait until it's been implemented.




Challenges in verifying information

An inevitable problem with a real name system is the challenge in verifying information, and the possibly that minors still in school will use their parents’ IDs to register cannot be excluded, nor can the more serious possibility that Internet cafe management will use adult IDs to help these gamers register. If things proceed as such, the Ministry of Culture's goal of supervising online games will not be achieved. This is just one point, another is that verifying the virtual IDs of these gamers match up with their actual personal information is not something that can be easily done in a short period of time, and it bears pointing out that the number of registered gamers in China would not be a mere trifle.

There are currently far more than ten million gamers in China, and that number continues to grow; even if gamers were sincere and honest in filling out their actual information, people would still be needed to verify it, and you can imagine how much work implementing a real name system would entail. Further, the degree of authenticity of information required is quite high; authenticating it would require working with the Public Security Bureau, so clearly completing this within a short period of time is unrealistic!



Who will ensure that personal information will be protected?

Once the real name system is instituted, who would be responsible for keeping the information safe? It goes without saying that a lot of the players’ information is highly private and extremely sensitive. Once the real name system is more or less in place, account theft will to a certain extent be kept in check, but this doesn't exclude the possibility of a targeted attack, and once accounts are stolen, how can it be ensure that players’ information will not be leaked? This is something which concerns many players. Also, in the event that players’ information is leaked following the implementation of the real name system, who will be held responsible? The gaming companies or the ID thieves? Or will it be the people who proposed and implemented this “online real name system”?



Potential for conflicts of interest

I remember that when the online game anti-addiction system [zh] was first proposed, it was met with opposition by all the main mainland gaming companies, this was the reason its implementation faced so many major difficulties. Then there's the fact that carrying out supervision of online games is so difficult logistically, not to mention that the conflict of interest between gaming companies and gamers was never able to be resolved. The real name system will face the exact same conflict of interest: as the majority of gamers are currently youth, having them leave games as a result of real name registration requirements is obviously not something that game operators wish to see. So, if this conflict can't be resolved and implementation of online real name requirements forges ahead, at most it'll only be for appearances, don't expect to see any great results!

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