On August 2, a 15-year-old boy died after checking into a boot camp in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, south China. He was being treated for Internet addiction.
It is alleged he was beaten to death by so-called therapists at the camp. The death of Deng Senshan has raised again the issue of why so many young people in China are addicted to the Internet.
Some studies estimate as many as 10 percent of China's young Internet users are addicted - mostly to online multiplayer games.
Some individuals showed physical signs of addiction when kept away from their computers, akin to substance-dependent addicts; others ignore food, drink and sleep for the sake of gaming. And parents fearing the worst for their children are increasingly turning to treatment centers and camps.
What's to blame for this ever-spreading problem? The game makers, for aggressively marketing these addictive games to children? Surely not. We don't blame alcohol makers for causing alcoholism; We don't blame cigarette companies when someone picks up a pack of smokes.
If it's not the makers' fault, then aren't the gamers to blame for playing so much? Or even, their surrounding family members who enable them to ignore life as they stare at their screens? The "Little Emperor Syndrome" scenario in urban areas of China, where the only child gets exclusively doted upon by his or her two parents and four grandparents, suggests one possibility.
Some families buy too much for their kids, letting them play games 24/7 while ignoring schoolwork and responsibility. This is because they want their children to have all the things they couldn't have when they themselves were growing up.
Some parents might fear sounding too harsh to their children, or disturbing the household's status quo. Thus, they'll hold their tongues while their kids get more and more consumed by the Net.
But the underlying question still exists - why would people play to the point where it ruins their lives? As a gamer myself with many avid gamer friends, I can't say that it's just because they find it fun.
Even the most addicting game or string of games gets a little boring after a while, and everyone needs a break. Spoiled children are no exception. Many psychologists, addiction counselors and former addicts both in Asia and abroad have mentioned two particular reasons for such intense gaming.
One is the desire for social worth and interaction. Many Chinese kids spend all day studying and no time hanging out with others. Outside of school, some never interact with others their age, as they have no siblings and are escorted to school and back by an older family member.
However, in multiplayer online games, people work in disciplined teams, fight together and depend on each other, and it's easy to find other gamers of the same age.
The other reason? Escapism. Many addicts have to face mountains of pressure from parents and teachers alike. Some aren't stellar students or talented at various extracurricular activities. But in their games, they can rack up victory after victory, building up an enormous sense of accomplishment.
Or, they play to escape the pressures and pains of life's problems - by becoming fantasy characters in fantasy worlds, by succeeding and doing things that they could never do in real life.
At first a coping mechanism to help them adapt to life's troubles, online gaming soon quickly slides into something deeper - a maladaptation.
These reasons speak volumes. If someone has a good social support network, is an adulated ace student, then why pour every fiber of his or her being into an online game?
Blaming the games means nothing; these individuals would likely turn to another addiction, another escape. Indeed, many addicted gamers have said they've got just as involved in reading or television before, and if they hadn't taken up gaming, they would have turned to drugs, alcohol and partying instead.
It's not the substance: it's the individuals' tendency to addiction in an effort to drown out their problems. Simply sending the child away to a rehabilitation camp is not enough, especially if the camp itself doesn't understand the condition, thinks these kids are merely undisciplined and lazy, and decides that beating them is the best solution.
(Shanghai Daily August 17, 2009)