Written by Cathal Lee, CNN
From being cursed with wrinkles and ridges to experiencing real-time paranoia, Chinese millennials have a lot to deal with in the virtual world. And that’s not all they’ve got to worry about.
As e-gaming on smartphones and tablets becomes more mainstream in China, its associated addiction issues — ranging from depression to substance abuse — are at an all-time high.
A paltry 11% of gamers are under the age of 30, according to DataFromChina, a brand analytics company, compared to 51% of gamers globally. However, it expects that number to rise to 34% by 2025.
“Many games that are heavily played by this age group tend to have a high level of simulation, forcing players to set foot in their characters’ environments to obtain virtual goods and complete tasks, causing them to become dependent on the games and sedentary in real life,” said Ben Yuen, a Singapore-based analyst at research firm IHS Markit.
“The effect is similar to using a muscle relaxant, which is also addictive.”
The latest crackdown on excessive gaming, which brings issues including children going into early labor and people stabbing themselves in the head when their screens are turned off, will no doubt result in long, draining games this holiday season.
An artist depicted as a human being suffering from addiction. Credit: Chinese Internet News Service
Chinese gamers are already known for falling into a daily routine of stopping in on their favorite video games long before they finish school, the workplace and real life. That requires prolonged Internet connectivity — unlike older generations of people with other hobbies and family obligations, who couldn’t go online frequently.
Part of the problem for these Internet-addicted users is addiction — peer pressure to compete with one’s peers — particularly when playing internationally competitive gaming titles like League of Legends, DOTA 2 and Starcraft II.
These multiplayer games are known for their complex graphics, high-intensity competition and intense personalities.
“Chi-0xi,” a champion Korean e-gamer playing as Meng Liou, was involved in a deadly high-stakes incident two years ago when he stabbed his girlfriend to death on live TV after losing to her.
However, shifting demographics mean some of these hardcore gamers are influenced by their friends and relatives.
According to China’s National Addiction Research Center, 80% of Chinese teens ages 14 to 17 play online games, which is higher than the global average.
“Some of the game characters are more like porn stars and others are aggressive like war heroes and cartoon characters,” said Yong Wei, a Shanghai-based game designer who studies Chinese gaming culture.
Lulu Liu, 20, a college student from Nanjing, China, said that as one progresses in online gaming, her performance becomes increasingly powerful.
“In real life, I think my life can’t match up with the fantasy in the virtual world,” she said. “I can’t even play best games with my friends.”
This has led to jealousy and rumors of conspiracies on the internet as online gamers obsessed with their games openly belittle and mock other less talented peers.
“I’m worried that people will call me boring because I spent all my time online,” said Feng Xing, 20, from Guangzhou, China. “Some people may say that I waste my life. I would like to challenge myself and live for this online game.”
China’s government has designated gaming as a national problem and hopes to tackle it in a national plan to ease the country’s addiction to online games by 2020.
However, experts believe that the government may be underestimating the problem.
“Traditional Chinese parents’ ideal values are related to real-life norms such as altruism, but Chinese values are more complicated and competitive. It’s hard to explain this feeling with science and statistics,” said Feng Wei.
A game designed to make more children healthy. Credit: Chinese Internet News Service
Not all experts agree.
“The government is absolutely right to be worried about cyber addiction among gamers,” said researcher Tu Wang from the University of Nottingham. “You might not get addicted to your real-life family, but you can become addicted to virtual friends and families.”
Wang believes that as people spend more time playing, people also spend less time and money doing the things that are truly important in real life.
But, according to Lou Mengxiang, director of the China Children Project, addiction is a social problem and should be taken seriously.