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Virtual Game, a Double-edged Sword

It seems that Qiu Chengwei became a global name overnight as the world's three major news agencies carried a brief story disseminated by China's state media about his reprieved life sentence in early June.


The 41-year-old online gamer from Shanghai stabbed a rival named Zhu Caoyuan to death in October 2004 after he was told Zhu sold his cyber-sword.


The virtual sabre, used in a popular online game, was jointly won by Qiu and his friend last February and was lent by Qiu to Zhu, who sold it for around 7,200 yuan (US$870). The suspension of the death sentence was because shortly after Qiu killed Zhu, did he surrender to the police.


Prior to his perpetration with a real knife, Qiu went to the local police to report a "theft" on his virtual weapon and was told it was not real property protected by law.


Why did the Qiu case arouse so much interest from outside China? Apparently, it was a simple murder, however, it has shed light on the development of online games in the nation, absence of laws pertaining to cyber space and on mindset changes in the Chinese society behind the virtual world.


Back in 1994, the Internet entered China and over the past 11 years, China registered a netizen population of 94 million, according to China National Internet Information Center. The figure will reach 100 million at the end of this year, the Center forecast. They exchanged views in cyber space on almost everything, from China's disappointing football matches to comments and suggestions on government work.


Of course, the worldwide web also provides access to virtual entertainment for 26.33 million online game players. The players, quite a few of them teenagers, acquire a great deal of information, explore their intelligence and improve their responsiveness through the game playing, but at the same time, opt for turning more unsociable, irritable and provocative.


China, tending to become the largest market for online games, is ready to chalk up 3.5 billion yuan (US$421.7 million ) in sales income for the sector this year, up from the 2.47 billion yuan (US$297.6 million) last year. The forecast was made by the 2004 Annual Report on China's Online Game Industry that was released in January this year at the First Annual Meeting for the sector held in Guangzhou, capital city of south China's Guangdong Province.


The report said last year in China online games contributed 15.07 billion yuan (US$1.8 billion) to the telecommunications sector, 6.37 billion yuan (US$767.5 million) to the information technology (IT) sector, 3.58 billion yuan (US$431.3 million) to the media and traditional publication sector.


The robust online game sector expects to garner 10.96 billion yuan (US$1.3 billion) in sales income in 2009, with an average annual growth rate of 34.7 percent, the report predicted.


Nonetheless, the sector is laden with requirement of further localization and lack of domestic talents in game design and programming and marketing as well as with a string of social problems.


In past three to four years, the most eye-catching problems included suicide attempts of teenagers stemming from game addiction, juvenile delinquency and lawsuits related to virtual properties.


At the end of last year, a net-addicted pupil in Nanchang, east China's Jiangxi Province, jumped from the 24th floor of an apartment building. Prior to this, a sudden death of another pupil in the provincial capital was reported after he kept playing online games round-the-clock in April 2002.


Chen Yijun, a procurator at Hongkou District of Shanghai, said online games have also triggered juvenile delinquency. Some children steal and rob to get enough money for playing the games, and some others injured and even murdered their peers just to scramble for virtual weapons and equipment, Chen added. Quite a few Chinese parents have rebuked cyber games as "e-heroin."


Xu Jian, a law-school professor and a senior official with China Research Institute of Juvenile Delinquency, said "Internet has become an important part of modern society and serves as a good instrument. It is imperative to standardize the web-related business, including online game, rather than banning it."


Actually, China has promulgated rules to prevent Internet cafes to accommodate minors. Early last year, an overhaul of Internet cafes was carried out nationwide. And a special campaign was launched last June to crack down upon Internet porn, and more than 1,800 porny websites have since been closed consequently.


Given the ongoing social transformation in China, more and more Chinese have chosen to give vent to their dissatisfaction against work or human relationship in cyber space. The above mentioned Qiu Chengwei was an extreme example.


According to Zhu He who defended Qiu, the jobless, middle-aged online gamer used to live alone, with no parents, wife or child, and had little contact with his relatives. "He had few channels to let go his sense of loss in the real world and turned to the virtual world for a sort of psychological comfort," analyzed Wen Jun, head of the Social Survey Center under the Shanghai-based East China Normal University. Wen considered Qiu incapable of contacting other people properly.


Yuan Lihua, a 37-year-old company official in Shanghai, was another common example of online game addicts. In his office, he was a good colleague with a sense of responsibility, wearing a cordial, "professional" smile and being good at making concessions.


But in the virtual world of his favorite online game, he is a manslayer and conqueror, which pleases him very much. "When I fail to get along with my job, I'm extremely eager to play games," Yuan said.


Some psychologists argued usually, a gamer plays a role in the virtual world when enjoying online games, which reflects his/her instinct to attack and devastate in subconsciousness. In the virtual world, the gamer will not be confined by moral principles in the real world.


Ye Wei, an experienced online game designer, said that an online game is often a part of the designer's personal understanding of the real world, and his/her value is subject to no restriction in the virtual world.


Another problem behind online games is the absence of related law in China.


Lawsuits on virtual properties have been discussed for quite a long time in the nation's legal circle.


Zhao Xueming with the Bangxinyang Law Firm in Shanghai said most of legal experts in China consider virtual "weapon and equipment" a kind of properties.


In December 2003, the Chinese mainland's first virtual-property-related case was judged in Chaoyang District of Beijing. The court recognized the plaintiff's virtual equipment as a sort of intangible property and demanded the defendant to return the "equipment" to him and pay him 1,560 yuan (US$188) in compensation.


(Xinhua News Agency June 23, 2005)

E-game Industry Soars in China
Young Addict's Suicide Sounds Stark Warning
Youth Offenders Get Voluntary Service
Virtual Theft, Very Real Death
Teenage Internet Addict Commits Suicide
3.6 Billion Yuan Online Game Revenue
Legislation Proposed to Protect Virtual Property
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