Games addiction vaults to top of Vietnam’s social worry list

VietNamNet Bridge – Multiuser online game addiction in particular and Internet addiction in general has become an urgent matter in Vietnam. Central government agencies and the authorities of some cities are tightening control of online games.

For some months now, Vietnamese newspapers have been reporting a growing consensus that online multiuser games have become a new form of social evil that must be subject to greater control. Internet providers have been instructed to cut service to Internet cafes from 11 pm to 6 am. The Ministry of Information and Communications is coordinating preparation of a draft regulation on Internet Security which will address the online gaming epidemic as well as other “Internet issues.”

So that our readers can better understand the concern about the social impact of online multiuser games, VietNamNet Bridge digests articles from some local newspapers like VNE, Dan Tri, Tuoi Tre and the police online newspaper, Cong An Nhan Dan.

Portraits of game addicts

It’s not just young people who are victims of online games.  A Mr. Quang, 60, from Bac Ninh province near Hanoi, was recently hospitalized because of “mental disorder” caused by online games.

After his retirement, Quang was very sad because he had so much free time. His children gave him a computer and Internet connection to read online news.  Quang surfed the net for news for several months, but then discovered and joined an online game, Vo Lam Truyen Ky, a multiuser game based on Chinese kungfu stories.

Soon Quang was an “addict.” He didn’t leave his room for several months, playing the game night and day.  He bought swords to hang in his room. Sometimes he drank wine while fencing.  Seeing these abnormal signs, his children entered his room to dissuade him to stop playing game but he drove them away by brandishing his sword.

As an addict of Vo Lam Truyen Ky, Quang called himself “lao minh chu” (martial arts chieftan) and always carried a sword with him.

At last the family forced Quang to go to the National Psychiatric Hospital in Hanoi for treatment.  When he was brought to the hospital, he was seriously exhausted. His face was haggard, his body skeletal, his skin pale and his eyes glassy. He didn’t recognize anyone, screamed words used in swashbuckling romances and demolished furniture.

Nguyen Van Thanh, 19, from Vinh Phuc province, was not addicted to kung-fu game like Mr. Quang. Thanh was into sex games. Because his family is well off, he was able to spend several hundred thousand dong daily in online sexual adventures.  His parents, who were very busy with business, only discovered their son’s game addiction and sent him to the National Psychiatric Hospital when they noticed that the boy had become very skinny and glassy-eyed and talked a lot of nonsense.  More seriously, he had also become addicted to masturbation.

Doctor Nguyen Van Dung from the National Psychiatric Hospital, who directly treated Thanh, said: “This patient masturbated 4-5 times daily.  When he was hospitalized, his penis swelled and discharged pus. He was very apt to masturbate in front of others. This is a syndrome of a sex disorder.”

After three months of treatment, using both therapy and psychoactive medicines, both Quang and Thanh  recovered.

According to Dung, two or three game addicts daily are admitted to the National Psychiatric Hospital.  This summer the hospital has sometimes received up to five patients in one day.

Psychiatrist Le Minh Cong of the Central Psychiatric Hospital in Dong Nai province says that about six percent of his hospital’s patients are game addicts and that most of them are students who lack parental oversight.

Only a few cases of gaming addiction are so serious that they require specialized treatment at hospitals.  There are many more game addicts whose obsession hasn’t destroyed their health but nonetheless has seriously affected their lives. These people can be anyone: businessmen, intellectuals, college students or thirteen year-old school dropouts.  The common thing among game addicts is their passion for playing games. They are ready to give up real life to live in a virtual life.

Cute and fun-loving, Hoa, 27, is famous among Vo Lam Truyen Ky players because her character reached level 98 (the highest level in this game is 99).  She’s been playing the multiuser game for three years and was elected the leader of an online society. As the leader, she recently absented herself from work for a month to drill her society members throughout the country in preparation for a competition among kung-fu societies organized by the game distributor.

“I had to ask for sick leave because without their leader, my people are like a snake without head,” Hoa said proudly. At about the same time, Hoa’s boyfriend arranged a holiday tour but Hoa refused to join him. She told her online gaming group “I can lose my boyfriend but I can’t give up computer games.”

Cuong, a 7th grader, is the youngest member of Hoa’s group. He has played Vo Lam Truyen Ky for over a year and has reached level 80, very high in the world of Vo Lam Truyen Ky. Though Cuong is a kid. in the virtual world his character can insult other characters of lesser rank, though they are controlled by adults.

Cuong’s mother runs a small grocery and the boy often takes her money to pay for his game play. “I can manage OK,” he says, “but my friend played games until he was exhausted. His parents rushed him to hospital.”

Many kids like Cuong play these computer games. A boy in Phu Nhuan district, HCM City, is known by gamers as Nhoc. His parents are now in jail on a drug trading conviction. The boy lives with his grandmother. As Nhoc has been living in the virtual world for a long time, he has become a great character.

In the real life, anybody can bully Nhoc, but in the virtual world, Nhoc can bully others. This boy also earns money by playing games for people who despair of advancing their characters to higher levels. Nhoc is a notorious cheater in the online games, swindling other characters to take their assets.

Hai, a player of the “Chinh Do” multiuser game, is bachelor whose family operates a big hotel in District 1, HCM City.  Hai studied tourism to take over management of the hotel but he confessed that “my life has changed since I started playing games. I cannot give them up.

“I managed to quit several times but I’m a king online. If I quit, what will happen to my people?” Hai asked.

Six years ago, a university student named Tung began playing Vo Lam Truyen Ky. He then moved to “Kiem The,” another kung-fu game. “There are many rascals in this game who bully the weaker so I must protect them,” Tung says.

He is knightly in his games but in the real life, Tung has been very selfish to his family. His parents are very poor; they have worked hard for every penny of school fees for their son. But Tung finally quit school because he failed too many subjects.

There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of youth who quit school because of computer games.

“My son quit his studies four months ago, but I and my wife have just now learned of it,” wailed a tearful father who had spent days searching internet cafes to find his son. “Is it possible that I can lose my son because of this thing called a ‘game?’”  His son had been a second-year student at the HCM City University of Agriculture and Forestry.

So-called “offline meetings” are also an attractive feature of the gaming culture. Nga, a girl who likes most games and is the leader of a small society in Vo Lam Truyen Ky, collects virtual money in games to sell for cash to organize parties for members in her society, who range in age from fourteen to forty.  After each party, Nga chooses a guy in the society as her partner for the night.

Dao is not beautiful but she is famous in the world of gamers because she can drink a lot at offline parties and each week she goes about with a boy in her group. She plays games everyday because “I see the virtual world is fairer than the real world.”

Online games have stolen the youth of millions of youngsters. When the “game is over,” many wake up to find  themselves in hospitals. Some gamers become criminals, who stole, rob or even commit murder to have money to play games.

Lecturer Nguyen Tien Dung from the HCM City Technical Teacher Training University says that last year 281 students were expelled from the school because they failed to study, spending most of their time in online games instead.  At the HCM City University for Natural Sciences, around 180 students were suspended from studies in 2009 for the same reason.  At the HCM City University for Agriculture and Rural Development, over 400 were dropped for game-related inattention to their studies.

Fearful statistics

Yahoo and Kantar Media surveyed a sample of 1500 people of over 15 years old in Hanoi, HCM City, Da Nang and Can Tho. Nearly 50 percent of them used the Internet to play online games, especially action and role-playing games.

Another survey indicated that of 20.2 million Internet users in Vietnam, only 30 percent surf the net for information, while 53 percent use it for chatting and playing online games.

VinaGame, a big local distributor of online games, estimates that there are around four million Vietnamese who participate often in multi-user online games.

Research in 2008 forecast that Vietnam will have over 10 million gamers in 2011.

The Vietnamese online game market, valued at only $5 million annually in 2005, is now ten times larger.

Why are youth are sunk in games?

Dung, a middle-aged gamer, said that game addicts often lack family attention and education.

The local media recently reported that a 17-year-old gamer in Hanoi was hospitalized because of games addiction and exhaustion.  He played games for 10 hours a day. Many people questioned the role of the boy’s family in this case. This gamer’s father said calmly: “He would get up at 7am and play the game immediately without taking breakfirst.  After having lunch, he went to school. After leaving school, he came home to play the game again until midnight.”

In August 2009, it was reported that a group of teens stole the bicycles of primary students to sell for money to play games. These teens were not under the control of their parents.

To deal with game addiction, competent bodies have recommended cooperation between families, schools and management agencies. Many families ignore this appeal.

Vuong Tien Dung, vice chairman of the Hanoi Vo Lam Truyen Ky club, says online games serve a useful purpose. “Online games can help enhance the sense of community and computer skills. If players can understand that games are for entertainment only, they will not become addicted.”

People should play games only during the weekend or play at most three hours a day, Dung says. If kids are closely supervised by their families, they will not become game addicts.

The shortage of playgrounds for kids and teens is cited as a reason why they get hooked on online games.

At a recent workshop on Internet and online games, experts proposed that it is easier for people in Oriental societies like Vietnam to be addicted to computer games. It’s because Oriental societies are close-knit, where the self is restrained. In the virtual world, people can freely expose their virtual selves and so they are easily drawn by the world of games.

A mother’s lament

I’ve never thought that one day my son would become like this. He was an intelligent and gentle boy, a very good student, my pride and joy.  But since he began playing online games, my son has changed, especially after he entered high-school.

He ignores my tears and my advice and neglects his studies to live with games. He is no longer my intelligent and humorous son anymore. He is now a teen with a skinny body, a bleary, callous, uncommunicative boy.

My son!  Are these games your reason for living? I’ve devoted everything to you, both spiritually and materially. My only wish was to see you grow up and to have a good life. I don’t know how long will I be in this world and I only hope to save you before my eyes close forever.

My son! Please think again! Don’t you see many unfortunate people around you, who have struggled to overcome difficulties and misfortunes to live as true humans?  Don’t you see that you are running your life and mine by playing games?

I ask myself how much these online game services benefit our country?  No matter how large a profit it brings about, it is nonsense if it ruins even a single person.

How many kids, including my son, have lost their youth because of online games?

Le Thi Hoang Oanh (in a letter published by Tuoi Tre newspaper)