China’s growing problem with internet and video game addiction is probably best described by the case of Li Meng, a young man who has virtually been living in an Internet cafe for the last six years, leaving only to buy food and take the occasional shower.
According to Chinese media, Li Meng graduated from university six years ago, but unlike most of his peers, who went on to look for jobs, make a name for themselves and start a family, he opted for a life in the fantasy world of online gaming. Ever since he finished school, Li has spent most of his time in one of the many internet cafes in China’s Northeast city of Changchun. The owner of the place says he’s been there for such a long time that he’s basically part of the furniture, and doesn’t even notice his presence anymore. He spends every day and night tucked away in a corner, with an open bag of food by his side, staring at the monitor and mashing the keyboard and mouse buttons, leaving for brief periods of time to catch a bite to eat and take a bath. Reporters who visited the young Chinese gamer at his “workplace” described him as a pale “bespectacled youth that clearly hadn’t been to a hairdresser for a long time”.
This bizarre story first appeared in the Beijing Times, after a reporter from the publication got the tip from a professor of psychology at Jilin University. He informed them there was a young man who had been playing internet games for as long as six years without any communication with the outside world. Apparently, this Professor Ding, visited Li Meng himself, but caught him at a very bad time – just as he had finally reached the Boss on level 12 of his video game. Along with a social psychologist from Renmin University, he tried to tried talking to the young video game addict, but he just kept on playing, like they weren’t even there. “No matter what was said, he refused to communicate with anyone else,” Ding told the press. Reporters had better luck, as they managed to get a few words out of him, even though his gaze remained glued to the computer screen at all times. Asked how he can afford to pay the cafe’s fees every month, Li told them he makes a living selling custom items and virtual gold to other gamers, earning as much as RMB2,000, of which RMB500 is paid to the Internet cafe. But judging by the diamond-studded joystick Li Meng uses, the owner of the place estimates he makes a lot more from his gaming habit.
Some of the other gamers in the cafe told reporters they feel sorry for Li Meng, seeing him there every single day, even on important holidays like the Spring Festival, or New Year’s Eve. “He generally comes at night to play the game, gets sleepy during the day and sleeps here. From time to time he will be out to take a bath,” one of them told the Beijing Times. Because he hardly ever speaks, no one knows if even has a family.
Internet and video game addiction has been a big problem in China for some time, and there are now special camps where parents take their children to be cured, some of which reportedly use violence as a tool. The representatives of one such rehabilitation center said that as many as 80% of Chinese youth suffer from the affliction. It may be an exaggeration on their part, but stories like that of Li Meng show there is some truth to it. China has the biggest population of internet users – 450 million. That means one third of all Chinese are “netizens”.