By Emily Mitis
In a large, dimly lit room, silent all but for the sound of dozens of clacking keyboards, Gao Hai, 22, looked up from his computer screen, hesitant to momentarily leave his online game of DotA (Death of the Ancients). “I’ve been playing for 3 hours, almost 4 so far today,” he says. “I’ve played all but one day this week.”
Players like Goa are not difficult to find in Beijing. With a rising middle class, more people are purchasing home computers. The China Internet Network Information Center says that China’s population of Internet users jumped 19 percent to 457 million last year, and is expected to rise exponentially this year, according to a report in China Daily.
Current social tensions weighing down on the young in China—whether it is pressure from parents to succeed, worry of getting or keeping a job in a changing market, or stress of surviving in a quickly inflating economy—have created the need to escape that has manifested itself in what medical experts and those in the concerned Chinese government call Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD).
“The economic conditions in Beijing keep recent [university] graduates in rough conditions,” says Fu Xiao Ping, manager of a 24-hour Internet café in Beijing called Moli Shui Jing (The Magic Crystal). “There is not enough money to pay rent and food, and many jobs have no social benefits. It makes people depressed and want to escape their many problems by living a virtual life.”
Fu says he is used to seeing many Internet addicts in his café. Each customer must sign in and out, allowing the managerial staff to keep track of the 500 to 800 customers the business attracts each a day. About 5 percent of customers are regular patrons, spending upwards of six hours a day in The Magic Crystal. Some dedicated gamers even spend days at a time honing their gaming chops. Fu says he remembers one customer who spent between 23 to 24 hours a day in the café for more than six months on end.
Rehabilitation centers represent one effort by the Chinese government to help prevent widespread Internet addiction. The first and largest clinic, the Beijing Military Clinic Addiction Treatment Center, at the Beijing Military General Hospital, has treated upwards of 5,000 patients since opening in 2005. There are no patients older than 30, with ages usually ranging from 16 to 24.
“We hope to save the children, and make happy families and mature, functioning people,” said Wang Lihui, a 26-year-old staff member at the clinic.
Patients are admitted, usually by parents, in 3-month inpatient periods for treatments of psychological, physical and sometimes even pharmaceutical therapy.
The Chinese government has also attempted to resolve gaming addiction by enforcing an 18 and over age limit on Internet café-goers, but some patrons admit they share their ID cards with younger friends or have used fake IDs in the past.
Fu, who has been working at the Internet café for more than 10 years, thinks addiction issues are most rampant with recent university graduates and young professionals.
The Magic Crystal charges 3 RMB ($0.46) per hour to go online, making a week’s rent in the café 504 RMB, ($77), which the manager admits some patrons take advantage of when places to live are otherwise unattainable. The quiet, cozy, cave-like café has couches, lounge chairs, food and drinks available, making it a perfect haven for some struggling young people to relax.
One Internet gamer, Zhang Jhan Mei, 20, admits to playing two to three hours online daily to unwind after working full-time at Shi Cha Hai gymnastics school.
“This is much better than hanging out with co-workers at the end of the day,” she says. “I can turn off the part of me that works and create a fun life with new people who do not judge me every day. I can for a short moment escape the pressure of my boss, work, and all my life troubles.”