Midnight patrol: Tencent activates facial recognition system to prevent children gaming at night in China

The company will initially launch its new system for over 60 games but plans to add more titles in the future.

Photo via Chris Yunker / Flickr

China’s Tencent has launched a new and controversial “time-sensitive” facial recognition system that aims to prevent children and teenagers from playing video games after dark.

The gaming platform’s facial verification system, which went live today in China, will help to monitor players and detect individuals who spend a “significant amount of time” online at night, according to the company

“Midnight Patrol” seeks to deter minors—children and teenagers under the age of 18—from using “tricks” to pose as adults between 10pm and 8am in the country.

“We will conduct a face screening for accounts registered with real names and that have played for a certain period of time at night,” Tencent said today, according to a translation by Sixth Tone. “Anyone who refuses or fails the face verification will be treated as a minor, and as outlined in the anti-addiction supervision of Tencent’s game health system, and kicked offline.”

In 2019, the Chinese government passed “anti-addiction” regulations for minors, combating “gaming addition” by restricting playtime, imposing curfews, and capping in-game purchases. 

This regulation extended to barring minors from playing video games between 10pm and 8am and limiting them to 1.5 hours of playtime on weekdays and three hours on weekends and holidays. 

Tencent will initially launch its new facial recognition system for over 60 games, including the vastly popular mobile game Honor of Kings, but plans to add more titles in the future, according to the company. Riot Games’ League of Legends, which Tencent has a large stake in, is almost certainly on the list. 

The new system could force underaged gamers to play elsewhere and use virtual private networks to bypass facial recognition and switch to unregulated Hong Kong or Taiwanese servers before coming of age.