IAS Gyan

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PERSPECTIVE: REGULATING ONLINE GAMING

2nd January, 2023

Introduction

  • India is the world’s largest mobile gaming market in terms of app downloads. A 2019 survey by the U.S.-based Limelight Networks found that India had thsecond-largest number of gamers after South Korea.
  • The industry in the country grew at a Compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 38% between 2017-2020, as opposed to 8% in China and 10% in the US.
  • According to the All India Gaming Federation, Revenue from online gaming grew 28% in 2021 to 1.2 Billion dollars and is expected to reach 1.9 Billion dollars by 2024.
  • Need for virtual entertainment along with smartphone penetration and affordable internet is driving this surge in online gaming. India is home to over 275 gaming companies and more than 15,000 game developers. However serious concerns have been raised about the impact of online gaming on the society particularly the addictive nature of these games.

Impact of gaming on health

  • The World Health Organization categorized gaming disorder as a mental health condition in 2018, but as the pandemic increased screen time across age groups, concerns have been growing.
  • Research shows that gaming disorders can also be linked with anxiety, depression, obesity, sleeping disorders, and stress.
  • People who remain physically inactive for long periods because of gaming may also be at higher risk of obesity, sleep disorders, and other health-related issues, according to WHO.
  • While time spent online is still not as high as in other countries, almost  a quarter of adult Indian gamers had missed work while playing games during this pandemic.
  • Gaming addictions cause physical, social and emotional damages, impairing sleep, appetites, careers and social lives.

Steps being taken

Globally

  • China limited gamers under 18 years to just three hours of online games per week, during specified times, and made the industry responsible for enforcing the restriction.
  • Many countries — including Australia, China, Japan, India, Italy, Japan, Korea and Taiwan— already officially recognize tech addiction as a disorder,some even going so far as to declare the issue a public health crisis, leading governments and health-care providers to develop a series of major initiatives to curb the problem. India needs to take a cue from them.
  • The livestreaming of unauthorized video games was banned in China, signalling stricter enforcement of rulesas part of its broad crackdown on the gaming industry aimed at purging content the government does not approve of.

The case of India

  • Over the past two to three years many states in India passed laws banning online games. Telangana was the first state to promulgate an official ban on online gambling and betting in 2017 followed by Andhra Pradesh in 2020.
  • Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka also came up with laws on this issue but the respective High Courts either struck down those laws or put a stay on them.
  • Rajasthan Government has informed the High Court that it has drafted legislation to curb the menace of online gambling and betting.

What is the need for a Central level Law?

Failure of State Governments

  • Online gaming so far has been a state subject, but state governments have said they find it extremely difficult to enforce certain ruleslike geo-blocking certain apps or websites within the territory of their state.
  • Also, there is a concern that rules passed in one state are not applicable in another, which has caused inconsistency in how the online gaming industry is regulated in the country.
  • State governments also do not have enough blocking powers like the Centre to issue blocking orders for offshore betting sites.

Suicides

  • Stakeholders have highlighted a number of societal concerns that can arise from the proliferation of online games in the country. There have been a number of reported incidents of people losing large sums of money on online games, leading to suicides in various parts of the country.

Deterioration of Health

  • Research shows that gaming disorders can also be linked with anxiety, depression, obesity, sleeping disorders, and stress.
  • People who remain physically inactive for long periods because of gaming may also be at higher risk of obesity, sleep disorders, and other health-related issues, according to WHO.
  • While time spent online is still not as high as in other countries, almost a quarter of adult Indian gamers had missed work while playing games during this pandemic.
  • Gaming addictions cause physical, social and emotional damages, impairing sleep, appetites, careers and social lives.

Lack of Regulatory Framework

  • There is currently no regulatory framework to govern various aspects of online gaming companies such as having a grievance redressal mechanism, implementing player protection measures, protection of data and intellectual property rights, and prohibiting misleading advertisements.

For online gaming businesses, the inconsistency has led to uncertainty. The thinking within the government is to have a nodal agency that will address all issues related to online gaming, including introducing a uniform law to determine what forms of online gaming are legally allowed.

Recommendations

Central-level law for online gaming

  • According to the Task Force’s Report, a central-level law for online gaming should apply to real money and free games of skill, including e-sports, online fantasy sports contests, and card games among others.
  • Casual games with no real money element in the form of stakes may be kept outside the scope of such rules, unless they have a high number of users in India, or permit the publication or transmission of information in the nature of any inappropriate content like violence, nudity, addictive content or misleading content.

Regulatory body for the online gaming industry

  • It has also recommended creating a regulatory body for the online gaming industry, which will determine what qualifies as a game of skill or chance, and accordingly certify different gaming formats, seek compliance and enforcement.

Three-tier dispute resolution mechanism

  • three-tier dispute resolution mechanism, similar to that prescribed under the Information Technology Rules, 2021for online streaming services, consisting of a grievance redressal system at the gaming platform level, self-regulatory body of the industry, and an oversight committee led by the government should be put in place for online gaming.

‘Reporting Entities’ under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002,

  • Any online gaming platform – domestic or foreign– offering real money online games to Indian users will need to be a legal entity incorporated under Indian law. These platforms will also be treated as ‘reporting entities’ under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002, and will be required to report suspicious transactions to the Financial Intelligence Unit-India.

Wrapping it up

  • Information Technology Ashwini Vaishnaw has recently said that Centre govt has started a consultation process with all stakeholders and would soon come up with a proper policy or a new law on online gaming.
  • Awareness needs to be generated among the youth and their parents about internet addiction and educate them about the use of internet in a responsible manner.

Rajasthan government advisory

An advisory by Rajasthan government warned parents and teachers to look out for abnormal behaviour in children to detect and prevent addiction to online gaming. The recent advisory listed measures to protect children from getting overly involved in online gaming, which has become a growing concern of late.

The Rajasthan government advisory advised parents to establish an “internet gateway" at home which will help in effectively monitoring their child's internet usage. The document also suggested that it should be ensured that the child accesses internet from a computer placed in family space.

Other

In India, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has recently launched a counseling app for students called “Dost for life,” which includes counseling for Internet addiction disorder, apart from counseling for depression, anxiety, SLD, etc. Furthermore, in India, treatment for Internet addiction is provided through special clinics for behavioral addiction, in some institutions such as AIIMS, NIMHANS, and RML Hospital. Furthermore, while there are no national policies or programs targeting Internet addiction, the Indian Psychiatric Society (IPS) has developed guidelines for the management of Internet addiction.

 

  • In India, there has been a rise in gaming industry, as well as recognition by the government of the benefit of revenue by investing in gaming industry leading to the development of draft guidelines for the regulation of games such as the “Online fantasy sports platforms” in India. There are also plans to set up Center of Excellence for Gaming. However, how these guidelines and center of excellence will have an impact on problematic Internet use needs to be examined further.
  • Government policies to restrict the timings children and adolescents indulge online, especially in gaming, for example, “gamer guard” policy in Thailand, “fatigue system” policy in China, and “shut down” policy in South Korea.

 

Blanket Ban not a panacea

Any kind of blanket ban or prohibition is very harmful to society and citizens look at ways of violating it even if it means going to the extent of adopting criminalised ways. Games through electronic processes today are a part and parcel of recreation and helpful in breaking away from the routine, repetitive things. Distracting and cooling off the human mind is very important for stress management and protecting mental health.

  • Given the power that technology and AI holds, the gaming industry should build in preventive algorithm into their games, which should become the main subject of regulatory intervention. These algorithms should help players build their capabilities to decide when to stop playing a game, and report data which makes it easy to identify people with questionable behaviour traits.
  • Harm reduction initiatives with respect to Internet addiction involve displaying warning messages and restriction on advertisement or gaming, regulation of product development, etc.
  • There is also need for multisectoral coordination – there should be involvement of public health experts, behavioral addiction experts, and experts from the department of education, information, and technology to promote responsible Internet use.
  • Given the potential of the online gaming sector in attracting innovation, creativity, funding and revenues, policy planners and implementers need to consider allocating a part of these funds towards the preventive and curative aspects and not deter it. 
  • The setting up of a Central Level Regulatory Bodywould be a step in the right direction.

https://sansadtv.nic.in/episode/perspective-regulating-online-gaming-27-december-2022