While some authorities are investigating the possibility of listing obsessive gaming as a legitimate addiction, China has introduced steps to curtail the number of hours teens spend playing online games.
Associated Press says that under new rules, Chinese Internet gaming companies must install a program that requires users to enter their ID card numbers. After three hours, players under 18 are prompted to stop and "do suitable physical exercise."
If they continue, the software slashes by half any points earned in the game. All points are wiped out if players stay on more than five hours.
The program is part of a government campaign to combat Internet gaming addiction, "clean up the Internet environment" and "promote civilised Internet use," according to guidelines issued by China's General Administration of Press and Publication.
About 10% of China's more than 30-million Internet gamers were underage as of the end of 2006, says AP.
The government guidelines don't flat-out denounce the popular pastime, saying "measured gaming is good for the brain, but gaming addiction hurts the body."
The explanation says the three-hour cutoff is based on the time it takes to play the strategy chess game Go.
AP adds that President Hu Jintao ordered regulators in January to promote a "healthy online culture" to protect the government's stability, according to state media.
Though China's communist government promotes Internet use, it has also set up an extensive surveillance and filtering system to prevent Chinese from accessing material considered obscene or politically subversive.