Monday, September 24, 2007

China: Anti-Addiction policies not yielding desired results

"Whenever a new policy is set from above, ordinary people find ways to fight back. So we can always find our own ways to get around these restrictions."
- 15 year old Chinese Internet user

"Ordinary people," are who I have always found immensely more interesting in my work, because they're infinitely variable, numerous, and tragically under-emphasized in studies of technology and policy as are the circumstances in which they live.

China's self-described 'epidemic' of Internet addiction has been the inspiration for policies designed to control how much time gamers under the age of 18 spend online. There, "anti-addiction software" is installed which warns the user to stop after three hours, with the threat of point penalties if the warning is unheeded.

"One official report estimates that almost 6 percent of teenage Internet users — an astounding 3.5 million teenagers — are online more than 40 hours a week. That's why the government is requiring gaming companies to install anti-addiction software on their games to stop teens from playing too long."

In another part of the article, the industry perspective is: "What I want to say is we need this for our company," says Jackie Zhuge, spokesman for China's biggest online gaming company, Shanda Interactive Entertainment. "It's social responsibility we have to take."

Almost, but not quite. The burden of social responsiblity cannot reside exclusively in the hands of games companies. That gives too much credit to the design of games (which are in the end, for profit) and strips the discussion of any and all socio-political issues that motivate people to engage in such activities. But, isn't that what authoritarian governments would want us to focus on? Isn't that what we see in North America as well, with discussions about Grand Theft Auto and Anna Nicole obscuring our discussions of what is really important to our future?

The policies to curb 'addiction' probably are not working because the problem is hardly one of clinical pathology. What is driving Chinese youth online? The article touches upon some of these social problems: "China's one-child policy has indirectly led to this problem – spawning a generation of spoiled, but lonely, only children. The burden of parental expectation upon these children is often intense – as was once the case with another mother and her 18-year-old son. He now plays games for 10 hours a day. "He always used to be the top student, or No. 2, in his school," she says. "He even got a prize for being the top student in his school district. All the teachers had high hopes for him. Now he's dropped out. He has no future anymore." And these stories aren't unusual.

Does this -really- have to do with addiction to online games? With flashy Pokemon causing seizures in our brains, causing 3.5 million vacuous teenagers to become mindless helpless zombies under the power of the INTERNETZ? As my study in Korea echoes, gaming has emerged as a practice of up and coming youth who are dealing with the world they've been dealt. And it doesn't seem pretty.

Read the full article from NPR>>

"China now has 162 million Internet users. With 100 new users joining the online community every minute, China will overtake the United States as the country with the world's largest Internet population in just two years, officials say."

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Blogger ffelsl said...

You'd think they'd put some controls on smoking if they were that concerned with health.

3:15 PM  

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