GAMING IN CHINA
Internet cafe in Lijiang China is the world's largest video, online and phone game market. About 62.5 percent of Chinese minors often play games online, and 13.2 percent of underage mobile game users play mobile games for more than two hours a day on weekdays, according to state media.[Source: Reuters, September 1, 2021]
In 2019, the internet gaming industry in China generated a total revenue of about US$43.2 billion, a major chunk of which came from the mobile gaming sector. [Source: Statista]
There were an estimated 517 million gamers in China in 2017 (about 38 percent of China’s population at that time). The gaming industry in China was valued at $24.24 billion in 2017. Chinese gamers love Multiplayer Online (MOBA) games. They accounted for three of the top five biggest games in China in 2017. [Source: Will Gardner, World of Chinese, June 27, 2017]
History Chinese Gaming
Online gaming began growing very fast in China in the 2000s. Revenues from online gaming in China reached $1.54 billion in 2007, and increase of 61.5 percent from the previous year. At that time about 70 percent of the players had an average monthly salary of around $300 month but many were students with no income. One gamer who played a lot of Internet games said he preferred playing real sports like basketball, telling AFP, “China has too large a population and too limited space for entertainment, that’s why computer games are so popular.”
China’s one-child policy has been seen as a force for expansion of the gaming industry. Children with no brothers or sisters to play with have turned to Internet and computer games to amuse themselves. One 23-year-old sales executive told Reuters, “Games are my main form of entertainment and a great way to meet people...Some of my friends play 18 hours a day. They never leave the computer and get their meals delivered.”
Chinese-made video games from the 2000s included patriotic interactive CD-ROM games based on the Opium War, the Long March and battles between Chinese fighter pilots and U.S. aircraft in the Korean War. The Opium War game features three dimensional maps, images of British warship bombarding Chinese fortifications, movie battle scenes, colorful images of Beijing's imperial palace and musical accompaniments. Game Boy used to be incredible popular in China. Even homeless people had them.
China produced its own Laura Croft — Qing Na Chun in overseas markets. Blessed with a lovely Asian face and the body of a swimsuit model, the digital character was created by Beijing-based Dream Space Digital Image Company and appeared in films as well as video games. Qing was acrobatic and fond of adventure. She was free-spirited while remaining true to Chinese values. A gamer that played a China-produced game told the Times of London: “I played one domestic game, but it wasn’t very interesting. The animation was poor. I stopped playing very quickly. I like foreign games better....A friend said, “Domestic games are not violent but not interesting either.” I prefer the killing games. They feel very real. They are stimulating, too.” Today, Chinese-made games are better and dominate the Chinese market.
Douyu and Gaming Companies in China
Douyu is a popular gaming site and online live-streaming platform designed for sharing and commentary on video games. Founded by Zhang Wenming in 2013 and headquartered in Wuhan, it is mainly for users to broadcast e-sports competitions, showcase strategies, and share content related to videos. It issimilar to Twitch in the West. According to SimilarWeb, Douyu’s total visits reached 95.6 million in December 2018 with an average visit duration of around 8 minutes. As of September 2018, the platform had 7.6 million daily active users on the platform. The majority of the traffic (91.4 percent) to their website is from China. [Source: Tony DeGennaro, Dragon Social, 2020]
Tony DeGennaro wrote in Dragon Social: Although gaming is the main focus of the platform, videos with content ranging from sports, variety shows and entertainment can also be found on the platform. Douyu is partnered with Tencent, after Tencent became its largest shareholder in March 2016. As one of the largest game publishers in China, this partnership between Douyu and Tencent clearly makes sense. The company also holds live e-sports competitions in the hopes of further developing the industry.
Shanda Interactive Games and Net Ease.com were leaders in online gaming in China in the 2000s. Half of NetEases’ incomes comes from online gaming. Both companies were listed on Chinese stock markets and privately held. At that time Internet gaming was particularly profitable for South Korean gaming companies that controlled about 80 percent of the market. They make games like “Legend of MIR, Actoz Soft” and “NH”. Kaixin was a popular site that combines online games with networking services similar to Facebook. It was more popular than Facebook and was able to win many users using an “invitation virus” that sent out e-mails to everyone on the user’s MSN contact list.
Tencent is one of the largest video game conglomerates in the world. With ownership stakes in several American video game developers and publishers ranging from complete control to small investments. Among the games it has stakes in or owns outright are Call of Duty: Warzone, Fortnite and League of Legends.
Tencent Games is the video game publishing division of Tencent Interactive Entertainment, which itself a division of Tencent Holdings. It has has 5 internal studio groups, including TiMi Studio Group. Tencent Games was founded in 2003 to focus on online games. Riot Games is Tencent's best-known subsidiary. It is the creator the mass multiplayer online battle arena game League of Legends.
Tencent holds many investments in domestic and, since the 2010s, foreign game companies.It has five internal studio groups, TiMi Studio Group, Lightspeed & Quantum Studio Group, Aurora Studio Group, Morefun Studio and Next Studio. Tencent is also widely invested in American gaming and social media companies, including Snap, Activision Blizzard and the makers of Fortnite, Clash of Clans and League of Legends.
Online Gaming in China in the 2000s
In mid 2008, thee were about 120 million online gamers in China and they played an average of 7.3 hours a week. Liu Bui, an analyst at the research firm BDA China, told the China Daily, “Online games are so successful in China because other alternatives such as PC games, console games or even sports...are limited in the country, especially in remote areas...The introverted side of the traditional Chinese culture also means many people find it easier to make friends in the virtual rather than in the real world.”
In 2004, when the game “Legend of MIR” was very popular, an estimated 13.4 million gamers spent $240 million on online gaming. At any given moment more than 2 million Chinese were gaming online. The addictive multiplayer Internet game “EverQuest” was also very popular. Sony marketed the game very heavily in China. Software and electronic companies like Internet games because they are more difficult to pirate than those available on CD-ROMS.
“World of Warcraft” was among the most popular online games in the mid 2000s. It is a game of wizards, elves, dragons and other fantasy characters inhabiting a mythical land called Azeroth. Players battle monsters and other warriors, earning points with each kill. The game was created by California-based Vlizzard Entertainment, which earns close to $1 billion a year from the game. Points earned by players are virtual money which the players can use to purchase powerful weapons and advance to higher levels of the game. After the Chinese version of “World of Warcraft” was launched new subscribers were signed up at a rate of 1.5 million a month. Coca-Cola is very involved in marketing the game, sponsoring carnivals in which gamers can play some real-life versions of the games. One two-day carnival in Shanghai was attended by 20,000 kids.
An online game called “Incorruptible Fighter” — in which players can torture and kill corrupt officials — has proven to be very popular in China. The game was established by China authorities in Zhejain Province to teach ordinary people about dangers of corruption. Player advance and ultimately reach a corruption-free paradise by killing officials and their children with “weapons, magic or torture” based on well-known incidents from Chinese history. One player told AFP, “I feel a great sense of achievement when I punish lots of evil officials.”
A popular online game in the late 2000s was Parking Wars, a game in which players have a certain number of parking spaces to park their vehicles. If they find another player parking illegally they can give them a ticket which earns them virtual points which they can use to buy more vehicles which they have to park. Some of the new games developed by Chinese companies have an anti-Japanese theme. The Chinese company Loyu.com created a game called “9-18, Anti-Japanese Frenzy” in which players can change the outcome of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident that triggered the Japanese occupation of China in 1931.
Top Video Games in China
According to Weibo and Baidu Tieba, the most popular games in the late 2010s were: 1) League of Legends — Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, MOBA — Weibo followers: 4,924,005; Tieba followers: 9,652,469; Average: 7,288,237. This Tencent-owned Riot Games’ multiplayer game is a cultural phenomenon and almost an industry in its own right, wrote Will Gardner, “supported by a nascent but rapidly-maturing infrastructure that has everything from professional e-athletes and teams who live and work in purpose-built ‘gaming houses’ to big name sponsors like Pepsi and Red Bull, and even fantasy leagues. Fans can watch their favourite players and teams on streaming websites as they play in the domestic League of Legends Pro League for a chance to compete in the World Championship at Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing..[Source: Will Gardner, World of Chinese, June 27, 2017]
2) Dungeon Fighter Online — Brawler/Action RPG — Weibo followers: 21,370; Tieba followers: 8,690,827; Average: 4,356,099. First released on the mainland in 2007 by Tencent, this 2005 Korean side-scrolling beat ‘em up defined China’s late noughties online gaming scene. Players could join guilds to battle hordes of monsters together or fight each other in PvP (player versus player) Arenas.
3) Kings of Glory — MOBA — Weibo followers: 2,499,231; Tieba followers: 4,822,663; Score: 3,660,947. This popular mobile game is essentially shrunken League of Legends. With an active playerbase of over 50 million on the mainland in the mid 2010s, this game almost singlehandedly launched the shift towards mobile gaming.
4) CrossFire — First Person Shooter, FPS — Weibo followers: 103,699; Tieba followers: 6,492,989; Score: 3,298,344. This game has a big following in China as it does throughout the world. Developed by Korean company Smile Gate and brought on the mainland by Tencent in 2008, the game had over 650 million players worldwide in 2017. Players assume the role of mercenaries and try to take out a variety of enemies.
5) Defense of the Ancients — MOBA — Weibo followers: 736,803 Tieba followers: 3,653,698; Score: 2,195,251 — is an adaption of Blizzard’s 2002 hit Warcraft 3. In 2016, the Chinese team Wings Gaming were crowned champions at the biggest DotA tournament and won $9.1 million in prize money.
6) Hearthstone — Trading Card, TCG ) — Weibo followers: 574,339; Tieba followers: 2,678,099; Score: 1,626,249. Released through NetEase in China, Blizzard’s 2014 trading card game also takes inspiration from the Warcraft universe, sharing many characters and items with the original game. It is a cross-platform game meaning it can tap into multiple markets at the same time. The game made over $395 million in revenue in 2016, and since then has expanded its playerbase by another 20 million to an estimated 70 million in 2017.
No. 7 QQ Speed — Racing game — Weibo followers: 12,672; Tieba followers: 2,777,323; Score: 1,394,998. Another Tencent product, QQ Speed is China’s most famous racing game, enjoying huge popularity since its release in 2006. In May of 2011, more than 2 million people were online playing QQ Speed simultaneously, becoming the fifth game to do so in China. More impressively, it was the first Chinese-produced game to reach this achievement, and has since become a source of national pride as well as piece of history.
Top Phone Games in China
One of the most popular games in the late 2010s was Tencent’s flagship mobile game "Honor of Kings". Many parents and teachers complained that children were addicted to the game.
Every month, Newzoo and TalkingData publish the Top 20 Android Mobile Games in China based on monthly average users (MAU). This data is built from behavioral data sets, collected directly from the users of over 1 billion active mobile devices in China. [Source: NewZoo, March 2022]
Rank, Title — Publisher
1) Honor of Kings — Tencent -
2) Anipop — Happy Elements -
3) Game for Peace — Tencent -
4) Happy Lord — Tencent -
5) Happy Mahjong — Tencent -
6) Battle of Golden Spatula — Tencent
7) League of Legends: Wild Rift — Tencent
8) Genshin Impact — miHoYo -
9) Happy Mahjong — Tencent 4
10) JJ Doudizhu — JJWorld
11) Craz 3 Match — Tencent -
12) Chinese Chess — Tencent
13) Children of the Light — NetEase
14) Cross Fire Mobile — Tencent
15) Snake — Weipai Network
16) Battle of Balls — Giant Network
17) Hui Wan — Weipai Network
18) Clash of Clans — Kunlun
19) Minecraft — NetEase
20) Call of Duty Mobile — Tencent
Rules in China Limiting Online Gaming for Minors
In August 2021 China introduced new rules that limited the amount of time under-18s could spend on video games to three hours a week, a move it said was necessary to combat gaming addiction. Reuters reported: The new rules place the onus on implementation on the gaming industry and are not laws per se that would punish individuals for infractions. [Source: Reuters, September 1, 2021]
The National Press and Publication Administration (NPPA), the regulator which approves video game titles, said the new rules were a response to growing concern that games affected the physical and mental health of children. Authorities in China have worried for years about addiction to gaming and the internet among young people. Rising rates of nearsightedness were also cited as a concern in 2018.
The new restrictions forbid children under 18 to play online games from Monday through Thursday. They can only play for one hour, between 8 and 9 p.m., on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. Online gaming companies must ensure they have put real name verification systems in place, and all titles will eventually need to be connected to an anti-addiction system being set up by the NPPA.
In 2017, Tencent Holdings said it would limit play time for some young users of its flagship mobile game "Honor of Kings", a response to complaints from parents and teachers that children were becoming addicted. A year later, citing concerns over growing rates of myopia, Beijing said it was looking at potential measures to restrict game play by children and suspended video game approvals for nine months.In 2019, it passed laws limiting minors to less than 1.5 hours of online games on weekdays and three hours on weekends, with no game playing allowed between 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. It also limited how much minors could spend on virtual gaming items each month, with maximum amounts ranging from $28 to $57, depending on the age. In addition, minors were required to use their real names and national identification numbers when they logged on to play and companies like Tencent and NetEase, set up systems to identify minors. In July, Tencent rolled out a facial recognition function dubbed "midnight patrol" that parents can switch on to prevent children from using adult logins to get around the government curfew.
The battle by the Chinese government against gaming goes back a long time. In 2001, the China Daily wrote that video games “create a bizarre and motley world with no teachers, homework and textbooks.” In February 2005, China banned 50 electronic games including “FIFA Soccer 2005" and Microsoft’s “Age of Mythology” as part if a campaign to get rid of harmful influences on young people. In effort to steer kids away from violent video games and guide them towards something more enriching, the Chinese government has earmarked more than $274 million and wooed 50 companies to produce 100 electronic games that involve Chinese literary classics, Chinese historical events and famous figures like the Communist hero Lei Feng and eunuch adventurer Zheng Ho.
Game Freeze Causes 14,000 Chinese Companies to Go Under
On top of the regulations limiting game time among miner, China’s froze video game licenses. The National Press and Publication Administration (NPPA) did not not approve any new games after July 2021. As of January 2022 the freeze was still place Because of this, the state-run newspaper Securities Daily reports, approximately 14,000 small game studios and video game connection companies, including those involved in merchandising or publishing, went out of business. [Source:Brian Ashcraft, Kotaku, January 4, 2022]
Brian Ashcraft wrote in Kotaku: “Typically, the NPPA approves around 80 to 100 games a month, so the lack of an approved list has ground part of the industry to a halt. China is such a massive market, and the hiatus has caused uncertainty that has led to layoffs at game companies, and conglomerates with game divisions. However, it sounds like the smaller outfits have been hit the hardest.
“In comparison, companies like tech giant Tencent have continued to expand internationally as a way to balance the regulatory situation at home. SCMP points out that Tencent also plans to open a new studio in Singapore under the TiMi Studio Group, which is responsible for Tencent’s mega-hit Honor of Kings. TiMi also has international studios in Montreal, Seattle, and Los Angeles.
“No reason has been given for the hiatus, and the NPPA hasn’t stated when approvals will restart. Prior to this latest freeze, the longest period that new game licenses were not released was a nine-month window in 2018. The South China Morning Post reported the approval freeze happened a few months after March 2021, when President Xi Jinping expressed his concerns about gaming’s psychological impact on young people. In August 2021, state-run media referred to video games as “spiritual opium” and “electronic drugs.” Then, on September 1, restrictions limiting the online gaming of the nation’s youth went into effect. While these restrictions were not law (and were soon circumvented), the combined impact of all this, the lack of new game approvals, and general uncertainty, is impacting the industry—and not in a good way.
China Busts the World's Biggest Video Game Cheating Ring
In April 2021, Chinese authorities said they shut down the world's biggest gang of video game hackers. Ten people were arrested for selling cheating software for bestselling games, including Call of Duty and Overwatch. Authorities seized $76 million, along with luxury cars and other goods from the alleged illicit enterprise. [Source: CBS News, April 3, 2021]
Serkan Toto, a video game analyst, told CBS News, cheating syndicates like the one busted in China and hackers have long operated with impunity. "They are extremely professional. If you look at some of the website offerings, they have shopping carts, they have pricing lists, they have customer service," Toto told CBS News. He compared the websites that hackers create and use to Amazon. "Some of these companies [are] raking millions and millions each month. And the scale is really unbelievable in some cases, and so are the profits."
“China's crackdown reveals the dark side of competitive video gaming, where top stars playing solo or on teams are earning seven figures. In 2021, close to half a billion fans are forecast to watch Esports. With revenues on track to top $1 billion, vanquishing the industry's cheating scourge will remain front and center.
Gold Farmers in China
Internet cafe in Khotan
In the 2000s, “Gold farmers” were paid employees who played Internet games like “World of Warcraft, Lineage” and “Magic Land” for long stretches of time to earn points that were sold for real money to players of these games so they could buy virtual goods such as magic spells, amulets and swords that allow them to play the games at higher levels. One 23-year-old gold farmer told the New York Times: “For 12 hours a day, seven days a week, me and my colleagues are killing monsters. I make about $250 a month, which is pretty good compared to the other jobs I’ve had, And I can play games all day.”[Source: David Barboza, New York Times December 9, 2005]
One gold farming factory in Fuzhou visited by the New York Times consisted of a series of large dark rooms with about 70 players playing quietly and a few sleeping at their keyboards. The owner of the factory, which mostly employed males between the ages 18 to 25, said, “We recruit through newspaper ads.” The workers “all know how to play online games, but they’re not willing to do hard labor.” In another factory visited by journalists, players sat behind 40 computers, all playing the same game, with dormitory rooms and bunk bunks on the second floor.
According to figures from the China Internet Centre, nearly $1.7 billion of make- believe currencies were traded in China in 2008 and the number of gamers who played to earn and trade credits were on the rise. It was estimated that 80 percent of all gold farmers in the world at that time were in China. home of the largest internet population in the world. [The Guardian]
There were an estimated 400,000 gold farmers worldwide in the late 2000s. They were mostly in China and other east Asian nations such as Vietnam. According to researchers at Manchester University gold farming was a $711 million a year business in 2008. The Internet was filled with advertisements from small companies auctioning off weapons and products. Shanghai-based 5173.com which specialized in gold farming transactions had over 3 million registered users. In China there were hundreds — maybe thousands — of online gaming factories, maybe employing as many as 100,000 full time paid gamers, and possibly a million part timers. Many operate with a few computers in abandoned warehouses or internet cafes.
Customers can pay a company like 5173.com $450 to advance from Level 1 to Level 70, the highest in World of Warcraft or can hire a gold farmer directly, a practice called power leveling, to advance them to higher levels. Some game owners accuse gold farming businesses as being illegal. Virtual factories tend to operate quietly to avoid paying taxes.
There were an estimated 4 million gold farmer customers, mostly in Europe, North America and Japan in the late 2000s. Typical customers include gamers who loved the games but because of jobs and family didn’t have the time to earn “virtual gold.” They might send $44 for a World of War horse or $71 for 5,000 gold pieces that can be used to buy a variety of weapons and accessories.
Chinese Gold Farmers at Work
Describing a gold farmer playing World of Warcraft, Julian Dibbell wrote in the New York Times Magazine: “It was an hour before midnight three hours into the night shift with nine more to go. At his workstation in a small fluorescent-lighted office space in Nanjing, China Li Qiwen sat shirtless and chain-smoking, gazing purposely at the online computer game in front of him. The screen showed a lightly wooded mountain terrain, studded with castle ruins and grazing deer, in which warrior monks milled about. Li, or rather his staff-wielding wizard character, had been slaying the enemy monks since 8:00pm, mouse-clicking on one corpse after another, each time gathering a few dozen virtual coins — and maybe a magic weapon or two — into an increasingly-laden backpack.”
Ge Jin, a PhD student at the University of California who has filmed gold farmers, told the Times of London, “Their virtual lives give them access to power, status and wealth which they can hardly imagine in real life.” On a good day a gold farmer could earn $25. Li got paid about $1.25 for every 100 gold coins he earned, which worked out to about 30 cents an hour. His employers sold the 100 gold coins to a retailer for $3 and they in turn sold them to customers for as much as $20. A typical gold farming business with 10 employees earned about $80,000 a year.
Some “virtual sweatshops” provided employees with room and board, and all the cigarettes they could smoke. Many of the players were migrant workers. Few were over 30. Those that were over that age often burnt out. Younger ones often went to Internet cafes when they are not working to relax. Some lived in the same building where the worked and rarely set foot outside or saw the sun. One Chinese town had so many gold farmers it was nicknamed “Heaven of Legend” after the online game “Legend of Mir”.
Serious gamers don’t like the virtual factories because they feel they cheapen the value of the virtual product and allow players to advance not on skill but by simply paying money. These gamers often go online and attack the gold farmers while they are playing and run blogs with names like “Chinese Farmer Extermination” and “Chinese Gold Farmers Must Die” that list the names of the gold farmers and runs messages with anti-Chinese and racist overtones. One gold farmer who is often attacked online told the Times of London, “They treat me bad...They keep calling me farmer, China, dog and such. They non-stop racist me.” American gamers say they can easily spot the gold farmers because they have no weapons or armor, having sold them all. Most of those that oppose the gold farmers don’t have jobs and have the time to do the repetitive tasks required to get to high levels.
Regulating Gold Farming
The games are known as massive multiple player online games (MMOGs). World of Warcrafts was the largest MMOG with 10 million players in the late 2000s, World of Warcraft has decided that gold farmers compromised the integrity of the game. Accounts that looked as if they were engaged in such commercial activity were shut down. When that happens a gold farmer losses his $45 registration fee. Some players that have been shut down on a U.S. account switched to a German one, where scrutiny is less severe. Other popular games targeted by gold farmers included “Star Wars Galaxies”, “Second Life”. "Everquest" and “Age of Conan “. The real dollars spent playing EverQuest would make it the world’s 77th richest nation.
Danny Vincent wrote in The Guardian: “The trading of virtual currencies in multiplayer games has become so rampant in China that it is increasingly difficult to regulate. In April 2011, the Sichuan provincial government in central China launched a court case against a gamer who stole credits online worth about 3000rmb. The lack of regulations has meant that even prisoners can be exploited in this virtual world for profit. [Source: Danny Vincent, The Guardian, May 25, 2011]
In 2009 the central government issued a directive defining how fictional currencies could be traded, making it illegal for businesses without lisences to trade. "China is the factory of virtual goods," said Jin Ge, a researcher from the University of California San Diego who has been documenting the gold farming phenomenon in China. "You would see some exploitation where employers would make workers play 12 hours a day. They would have no rest through the year. These are not just problems for this industry but they are general social problems. The pay is better than what they would get for working in a factory. It's very different," said Jin.
Internet Addicts in China
In 2008, China became the first nation to declare Internet addiction a clinical disorder. Internet addicts are called "web worms" in China. Regarded as embarrassment to parents and teachers, they generally prefer to spend long hours playing Internet games to socializing. Some students fail their classes and have to repeat grades in school because they skip school and go to Internet cafes. Some become so addicted to the Internet and so negligent of their other duties, their parents think they are on drugs. Others raid their parent’s wallets and sell their bicycles to get money for the Internet cafes.
Internet addiction reportedly affects 10 percent of China‘s 338 million Internet users. The U.S. Center for Internet Addiction Recovery describes the condition as compulsive behavior in which “the Internet becomes the organizing principal of addicts’ lives.”
There are a number of cases of youths who drop out or are kicked of school, stop communicating with their families and spend all their times in their rooms playing computer or online games or surfing the net. Between September 2005 and July 2006, two thirds of the 90 students who dropped out of at Zhejiang University left because of Internet addiction.
One Internet addict told AFP he spent three days and nights playing online games, uninterrupted by meals or sleep. He said, “I had no sense of achievement from anything I did in the physical world.” Some addicts reportedly experience physical reaction when they are denied games similar to those experienced by drug addicts and alcoholics going through cold turkey.
After deciding to send her 12-year-old son for treatment a 45-year-old accountant told Time, “Things have absolutely gone out of control. My son just beat and bit me gain this morning after I wouldn’t let him touch the computer.” Some of the parents of addicts come from Peking University, Tsinghua and other top Chinese universities.
A counselor at an Internet addict clinic told AFP, “Some kids live in another world. They assume the role of kings and wizards .To use a Western expression, their soul has left for the other side,..The violence and sex of the games is likely to have a very deep influence on them. And its having this impact during the years that the personality is formed. Close to 40 percent of the kids here display violent behavior. They may start fighting over trifles.”
By some estimates there are 2.5 million Internet addicts in China. Most are male and young. Studies suggest 14 percent of teens are vulnerable to the condition. The Communist Youth League has called it “a grave social problem” that threatens the nation. According to one study 33.5 percent of the juvenile delinquency cases in the Beijing area — including rape and robbery — are linked with the excessive playing of online games. There is a debate in the psychology community worldwide as to whether Internet addiction should be considered a mental disorder.
Extreme Internet Addicts and Combating Internet Addiction
There have been a number of horror stores about Internet addiction. One middle school student played games so much he thought he had become abducted by aliens and had to be sent to a mental hospital. A high school boy who was confronted by his father over repeat visits a the local Internet café leaped to his death from a seventh floor window.
In 2004, a video game addict in Chengdu dropped dead from stress and exhaustion after playing “Legend of Mir II” for 20 hours straight in an Internet café. In Chongqing two highs school students were killed when they fell asleep on some train tracks after being online for two days straight. Beijing responded to these incidents by shutting down 16,000 Internet cafes.
Commenting on the death of a 26-year-old, 150-kilogram man, who collapsed after a gaming session that lasted for nearly seven days, a teacher was quoted as saying, “There are only two options: TV or computer. What else can I do in the holiday, as all the markets...and cafeterias are shut down?” [Source: Newsweek]
In June 2007, a teenager, described only by his surname Wang in the press, killed his mother and severally injured his father with kitchen knife after they refused to give the boy money to go to an Internet café. According to the Beijing Youth Daily, “After he got home Wang hacked at [his parents], causing serious injury. Seeing what he had done, Wang went to his room and sat on his bed.”: There was also a case of murder over virtual property and a series of suicides involving young people who played games online rather than doing their studies.
China’s Information Industry Ministry monitors the gaming industry. To prevent children from becoming addicted to the Internet the government it has passed rules banning youths from Internet cafes and developed technology that kick teens off networked games after certain period of time. There are periodic discussions of clamping down on addictive games with violent content. In December 2005 fifty types of computer software games were banned. Internet cafes are sometimes raided.
Internet Addiction Treatment Centers in China
At an Internet-addiction treatment center outside of Beijing residents are required to spend a minimum of three months at there and treatment consists of exercise drills, therapy sessions, reading, and games. Above everything else, the center seeks to encourage the residents to be more social to reduce sense of isolation that goes along with being a game addict. One observer said the patients readily adapted to life at the center. [Source: Thea Traff, The New Yorker, January 28, 2015]
Internet addicts are treated at the Juvenile Psychological Growth Base, an army-run clinic in southeastern Beijing suburb of Daxing. Opened in 2004 by a military researcher who developed his methods from treating heroin addicts, it treats between 20 and 280 patients at a time, nearly all of whom have been placed involuntarily in the clinic by their parents. The cost for a month-long session is about $1,300.
The Juvenile Psychological Growth Base can treat about 100 patients at a time. The patients dressed in a military camouflage T-shirts shout Communist slogans like “Unity is strength, our spirit is stronger than steel” before marching off to lunch. The clinic had treated 1,500 people between the age of 14 and 36 as of 2007and claims a 70 percent success rate. About 50 percent of the patients are high school age, 30 percent are middle school age and most of the rest are university students.
Treatment at Internet Addiction Camps in China
At Daxing Usually about 60 Internet addiction patients are treated at one time. After being admitted to the clinic patients are given a diagnostic test to determine their level of addiction and are treated with a combination of therapy, medication, acupuncture and physical activities. During the first 10 days the patients stay in rooms whose barred windows and doors are locked. They can not contact friends back home. One 17-year-old patient told AFP. “Some of the patients go nuts when they realize they can’t leave, They scream and shout that they want to get out." Later during their stay the patients are let out of the facility to run short errands. Kids that run away and go to an Internet café are put in rooms with nothing but a desk and a bed and book and told to write about their feeling on why they ran away. [Source: Time of London]
The patient’s day begins at 6:30am when they are woken by a man in military fatigues who shouts at them: “This is for your own good!” In the morning they are lead through exercises by a soldier. In the afternoon they participate in therapy session, in which family members are encouraged to attend. One of the doctors told the Times of London that their addiction is the result of personal and family problems — often related to being a spoiled single child — and not something inherently bad about the Internet. The patients also engage in sports such as swimming or basketball, do household chores, and play with toy guns and other real with aim of generating interest in the real world.
Some Internet addicts are treated with “nanometer wave machines” — devices that look a little like an old-style beauty salon hair dryer and is placed completely over the head. Others are hooked up to a machine that administers 30 volt electric shocks to acupuncture pressure points on the body. One official at the clinic told AFP, “Not everyone has to do this, but we suggest it for patients who have serious problems with sleep. We apply this three to five times a day over a 10-day period and the results are usually very good.”
Hypnosis, antidepressants, anti-psychotics and other drugs are also used. There are special rooms for severely addicted patients — ones have been addicted for four years or more — and are severely depressed and even suicidal. These patients are often given drugs and shock treatments. Some psychologists are critical of these approaches and say the one thing that help Internet addicts more than anything else is developing a social life.
Problems and Deaths at Internet Addict Camps
About 400 improperly licensed Internet addiction facilities have sprung up to cash in the problem. Some of the been accused of being staffed by poorly trained individuals who sometimes use violent and brutal methods.
In August 2009, Deng Senshan, a 15-year-old boy died at Qihang Salvation Training Camp, an Internet addict camp in Nanning city in southern Guangxi Province. He as reportedly beaten by one his teachers and had been at the camp for less than a day. Associated Press reported: The boy "was found vomiting and was taken to a clinic where he died. Fellow students said a teacher beat him, Xinhua reported. The report quoted the local government as saying several marks were found on the boy's body. Afterwards the camp was closed; thirteen people at the camp were detained; and the parents of the boy received a payment of 1 million yuan ($146,000) from a local education bureau.
According to the China Daily: Deng Senshan, a middle school graduate from Ziyuan, also in Guangxi, who was allegedly beaten to death by counselors at the Qihang Salvation Training Camp, where he was receiving treatment for Internet addiction. Li Jian, Deng's uncle, has said his nephew's addiction was not severe and that the teenager only surfed the Internet on weekends. "If we could choose again, we would not have sent him to the camp even if his addiction to the Internet had become worse, as long as he would be alive," Li told China Daily. In photographs shown to China Daily, Deng's body is pictured with bruises and his face is covered in blood. Those photos are in shocking contrast to ones taken just 48 hours before, showing Deng smiling with his father and sister on the beach. [Source: Zhu Yanting in Nanning and Lan Tian, China Daily, August 10, 2009]
Around the same time a 14-year-old boy died of acute renal failure after being beaten at a camp in central China. His family received 350,000. Afterwards boy’s parents told the Times of London, “The money will not ease the agony of losing our son. We can only hope this tragedy will ring an alarm for parents and the government to avoid such incidents.” A third teenager spent some time in the hospital recovering from kidney failure caused by a severe beating.
Tao Ran, director of the country's first Internet addiction treatment clinic under a military hospital in Beijing, told The Associated Press that such deaths were bound to happen because few camps employ scientific methods, with most opting for crude military-style discipline.Tao said 40 percent of those addicted to the Internet suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and find it difficult to obey orders at training camps. "They are only one-fourth or one-fifth as efficient in their academic life," he said. "Once you put these kids to the training camps or schools, they are bound to have problems with the teachers, because ... they can't be still, while the training is all about keeping still." [Source: Henry Sanderson, Associated Press, August 6, 2009]
Internet Cafes in China
Internet cafes are known as “wang ba“ (“net bar”) in Chinese. They were very popular in the pre-iPhone era, with users often hanging around for hours and hours. A personal computer and home Internet hook up was expensive in China in the 2000s and beyond the reach of most people. Internet cafes were the only way these people can gain access to the net. Many Internet cafes offered broadband service which was very quick. Most were open 24 hours a day and charged as little as 10 cents an hour. There are still Internet cafes but they are not used as a much they once were now that for all intents and purposes every Chinese has a phones. Most of those who use them are gamers who want to play on a big screen with the company of other gamers.
There are more than about 200,000 Internet cafes nationwide — more than any other country — in the 2000s. They could be found in remote corners of Tibet and Xinjiang as well as in Beijing and Shanghai. They were often packed with high-school- and university-age boys playing games and checking out Britney Spears sites. It was rare to see a girl or a middle-aged man or woman.
A typical Internet café in a rural area or town was around 100 square meters in size and located near a school or college. Sparsely decorated except for posters and advertisements for new games, and often filled with cigarette smoke, they were made up of rows of tightly-packed desks with computers operated mostly by young males playing online games. With the exception of occasional cheers they are mostly silent, except for the tap of keyboards and the click of mouses, as players concentrated on their games.
Some Internet café users played for days and even weeks without leaving and lived and ate in the Internet cafes that charged at little as $1.50 to $3.00 to spend the night, Smaller cafes usually sold drinks and snacks at the counter. Bigger ones had arrangements to deliver food to the players desks.
Problems and Killer Fires at Internet Cafes in China
Many Internet cafes were illegal. They were easy to set up. All you needed was a room and some computers. Some were hidden almost completely from public view in small offices and basements; have vaguely-worded signs to identify them; and required small bribes to police to stay open. A survey in 2002, found that only about 200 of Beijing’s 2,400 Internet cafes operated with all the necessary permits. Customers often used illegal cafes over legal ones because their rates were cheaper. Some users said they had no choice but use illegal Internet cafes because the government made it too hard to open up legal ones. For people who want to legitimately open an Internet café it was difficult to get all the licenses from different government agencies and costly to come up with bribes and “hurry up” money.
Internet cafes had a reputation for being havens for school dropouts, low lifes and young people addicted to computer games. They were often smokey and filled exclusively with young men. Some had no bathrooms, just a bucket in a corner. Many parents regarded them as the modern day equivalent of opium dens. It was s not unusual to see middle-school-age and even primary-school-age children in Internet cafes past midnight smoking cigarettes. There have been many reports of teenagers stealing money from their parents to play games at Internet cafes. In May 2004, customers at an Internet café stabbed to death two employees who told the killers they would have to buy membership cards if they wanted to play computer games all night.
In June 2002, a fire at an illegal Internet café in Beijing killed 24 people. Most of the dead were students at a nearby university. The fire blocked the main entrance. Other doors and windows were bolted shut or barred to keep the police out. One survivor told AP, “It was around 3:00am when I smelled gasoline and saw thick smoke coming up from the bottom of the stairs. I told a café employee, who went downstairs to check. He yelled there was a fire and we all tried to escape. My throat was filled with smoke and I couldn’t breath and couldn’t talk.” A factory worker who lived near the café told the Washington Post, “They were yelling, ‘Save us! Save us! Good people, help us! We don’t want to die!!” Their voices sounded strange, desperate and hoarse from the smoke.” The worker managed to help save seven people by unscrewing bars on a window. A 13-year-old boy and 14-year-old boy set the fire because the owner would not let them in the café. They were given life prison sentences. The owner of the shop was also imprisoned. The fire led to crack down on Internet cafes and the temporary closing of all the Internet cafes in Beijing.
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated May 2022