Last update 11/15/2010 11:04:00 PM (GMT+7)

Game addicts struggle to escape from the virtual world

VietNamNet Bridge – Is it possible to kick the online games habit?  Yes, but it isn’t easy, say experts.  A pilot program in HCM City shows it can be done.


Almost as difficult as drug rehab

After four years living in the world of multiuser games, all Minh has left at the age of 29 is his bare  hands and a big challenge: giving up games.

“I started playing computer games just to know how it was,” Minh’s said. The first multiuser games were distributed in Vietnam in late 2004.  At that time, Minh was temporarily working at an Internet café. He’d earned a degree in electro-magnetics but hadn’t yet found a suitable job.

Minh at first played a multiuser game when the Internet café had few customers but he gradually became an afficianado.  He started going to the Internet café at five or six am and returned home at midnight. Then he moved a bed into the back room and stayed at the Internet café all the time.

At that time, Internet cafes collected six to nine thousand dong per hour. Minh spent his whole salary, conned his mother out of more money and pawned family furniture to have money for gaming.

“I paid two or three million dong ($150-200) each week on average, and sometimes almost ten million dong. It was way more than I was being paid,” Minh recalled.  He sold a motorbike and a dozen mobile phones to get money to play games.

His mother quit her job to keep watch on her son. Minh loved his mother but he couldn’t say goodbye to games.  Minh also became addicted to cigarettes and coffee.  His health gradually deteriorated along with his personality.  He lost the job at the Internet café but he couldn’t give up games. His girlfriend left him after she asked Minh to choose between love and games and he chose the latter.

Several months ago, Minh’s family issued an ultimatum: “If you don’t give up games, we will have to give up on you”.

“I’ve always given you both my two hands but now you have only one hand from me. If you hold it tight, you can keep it. If you don’t, you will lose it,” his mother said in tears.

The first day stayed at home Minh was miserable. “I don’t know if game addiction is like drug addiction or not, but actually I could hardly stand not to play.” He acknowledges that he was a mess. Only his mother still believed he could be saved. His relatives had given up on him. His cousins were banned from contact with Minh because their parents worried that Minh would draw them into games.

During his rehabilitation process, Minh has counted each hour, each day. Though he hasn’t played computer games for nearly two months, he struggles whenever he passes an Internet café. “I have to give it up, it’s my only way out,” he tells himself.

In HCM City, a games rehabilitation program

Vietnam doesn’t keep official statistics of game addicts but it’s evident that game addiction has become a tragedy for many families.

A pilot project aimed at games rehabilitation was organized at the Cultural and Sport Centre for Southern Youth and Children in HCM City in November 2009 by the city’s branch of the Youth Union. The  eight week program counseled addicts on reviving their health after spending useless time playing games online. It taught new methods of self-reliance, ways to give up the virtual workd and rejoin the real world.

The rehab course relied on models from China and South Korea that combine therapy and a martial regime. Diary writing was used as a rehabilitation technique.  Psychologists designed individualized treatment based on the writings of each trainee, his (or her) circumstances and background. Parents of the addicts also joined some activities.

After the first course, eighty percent of the participants reported that they had quit gaming or have moderated their addiction. This course has become a new hope for families which have kids addicted to games.

“Some said they are now afraid of playing games or don’t have an interest in it anymore,” said Tran Thi Kim Lien, vice director of the Center. Lien added that some students have found alternative interests, such as hip-hop dancing, while others have severely limited their game playing time so they can focus on studying.

Experts gathered and analyzed information for two months after the first class ended in January, Lien said.

During the two-month rehab course, nearly all participants came to the center each weekend. They stayed overnight on Saturdays. The teens worked with psychologists and health experts to improve their self-esteem, develop other interests and teamwork skills, and learn how to avoid temptations. Among other activities, the teen participants were encouraged to put their thoughts and emotions in writing and drop their writings in a “feelings box.”  They washed their own white shirts to donate to disadvantaged students through charitable organizations.

Lien said that during the evaluation, it was realized that parents ought to be involved from the beginning of the rehabilitation program. In the first iteration, parents were not trained parents to work with the center until the sixth week.

“Parents play a very important role in cooperation with the program leaders in helping their children get out of the online game’s virtual world,” she said.

Though the pilot project was judged a success, a second iteration of the games rehabilitation course  has not yet been organized.