This story is from the category Life
Date posted: 12/07/2005
Persistent virtual environments are addictive, there is no doubt o0f that. The promise of a better life, free from the problems of the physical world, able to live out your dreams, is pretty powerful. People get so addicted to this new life they often neglect, or wind down the physical one. Sometimes people wind the physical one down to the point of death, as virtual worlds cannot yet sustain life, and we still need the physical to live.
To try to combat this problem, China has opened the first officially licensed clinic for treating online gaming addicts. It does this by treating the physical life as the more important, and attempting to moderate user?s online time.
"All the children here have left school because they are playing games or in chat rooms everyday," says the clinic's director, Dr. Tao Ran. "They are suffering from depression, nervousness, fear and unwillingness to interact with others, panic and agitation. They also have sleep disorders, the shakes and numbness in their hands."
China promotes use of the Internet for business and educational purposes, but popular Internet cafes are becoming hotspots for negative activity, causing the authorities to close down certain locations. High profile cases of recent occurrence include the couple whose World of Warcraft obsession lead to the death of their child, and the man who killed a friend who sold a virtual sword he had borrowed, without permission to do so.
Dr. Kimberly Young has studied internet addiction, and she is not surprised with the internet-related problems in China. "They are catching up with a lot of our technology, and certainly at that juncture, are now able to run into some of the same difficulties," she said.
At the government-owned clinic, a dozen nurses and eleven doctors tend to the patients. Most patients are between the ages of 14 and 24, and they've become shamelessly addicted to the internet. Some come of their own free will, but others are taken there by family members. Most patients say their addiction stems for a desire to escape everyday stress.
Dr. Tao Ran, the clinic's director, estimates that as many as 2.5 million Chinese are currently suffering from internet addiction.
"As the number of the Netizens grows, the number of the addicted people will grow as well, but we should not worry about the issue too much," says Kuang Wenbo, a professor of mass media at Beijing's Renmin University. "The young men at the age of growing up have their own problems. Even if there was no Internet they will get addicted to other things."
Tao says the treatment seems to be successful, but once patients leave the clinic, it may be difficult to keep them from returning to their old habits. However, moderation may be the key. One patient said, "It would be hard to give it up completely. I'll take it step-by-step."
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